Virginia-class Sub Managers have a truth problem:

by Craig Hooper on October 26, 2010


The Virginia Program Office (PMS-450) has been lying for months and nobody–not anybody–is holding the program managers accountable.

Want to know how bad it is? Take this “correction” from the current–October 22–issue of Inside the Navy (behind a subscription wall, sorry). The Program manager cannot bring himself to tell the public–even his own sailors–just how much of the Special

Hull Treatment is coming off his subs:

(Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clarify remarks made by Virginia-class submarine Program Manager Capt. Michael Jabaley on Oct. 21. On that day [Ed–at the Submarine League Conference], he said that hull coating debonding on Virginia-class submarines never affected more than “about” 5 percent of the coating on any hull. Through a spokesman, on Oct. 25, Jabaley said that in fact about 7 percent of coating on the Virginia was affected.).

Sooo…here we are, almost three months into this story and Captain Jabaley still cannot get the story straight about the extent of MIP SHT debonding on Virginia Class subs? This is embarrassing.

The story has changed. Read what the Virginia Class Program was saying about the debonding problem in an AP Wire Report from October 3, 2010:

All told, the Virginia, North Carolina and Texas each lost 5 to 7 percent of their special hull coatings, the Navy said. The amount of coating peeling away has been reduced to less than 2 percent on the New Mexico and New Hampshire

A month earlier, the story was different. Here’s the Program Manager’s comment on the extent of SHT debonding used in Peter Frost’s September 21 expose–an article that projected this issue into the national consciousness:

The Navy began making procedural changes to how the coating was applied immediately after the problems surfaced on the Virginia, which have led to “significant improvement on later ships’ performance,” Jabaley said. Relative to the total amount of hull coating applied across the class, “the worst-case amount of debonding amounts only to a few percent,” the Navy [i.e. Jabaley] said.

Neat, huh? Makes it seem like there isn’t a problem, eh? It’s great sea-lawyer rhetoric, but…when program managers start believing it, then, well, that is how programs run into serious problems…

This trend of obscuring the truth about the extent of the SHT debonding, coupled with the Program’s inability to tell us when they noticed the Special Hull Treatment was prone to debond, is frustrating. I mean, it is kind of important for policymakers to know if somebody in the Program Office knew the SHT was going to come off before it was installed…and yet went ahead and, uh, installed a critical subsystem that was, inevitably, going to fail.

Does this matter? Hell yes. The Virginia Class is a major program, standing as a significant investment of increasingly scarce national security funds. They are meant to serve on the front-lines of an increasingly contested, sub-infested Pacific. SHT debonding can make subs easier to find….And, yet, the guys managing those funds seem unable to tell citizens, policymakers–and probably the rest of the Navy–the truth about the Virginia Class.

That should worry people.

Where’s the truth? Here’s the Program Office’s story as of July 15, 2010, when the the Virginia Program was still a resounding success, for an Inside The Navy story (sorry, no link) via written comments:

“”The debonding issue has been aggressively pursued since its recognition in 2006,” the statement reads. “The problem was largely due to immature application processes…””

By September 15-7, as the hull debonding issue got more press, the story suddenly changed. Here’s the Virginia Program Office providing a later date to the Daily Press via written comments–a date that was used for a number of media outlets during the media storm:

The Navy first discovered the hull coating problems on the first-in-class Virginia in March 2007, just days after it finished its post-delivery maintenance period, called a “post-shakedown availability.””

And today, with the story starting to fade, Virginia Class submarine Program Manager Capt. Michael Jabaley has now reversed his original reversal in the current issue (Oct 22) of Inside the Navy:

The problem first came to the attention of program officials in 2006 after a series of in-process tests on the Virginia (SSN-774), Jabaley said. “We started making some tweaks,” he said. “Then when she came out of [post-shakedown availability] we experienced greater than expected debonding.

This behavior, in a word, is unacceptable.

After running away from Rickover’s legacy, and selling the Virginia-class as the program that could overcome Rickover’s legacy of overpriced, behind-schedule sub building,the Virginia-class Program Office could do well rediscovering Rickover’s irascible commitment to provide the Navy the very best.

But I have no confidence in the Virginia Class Program Office.

Somebody needs to step in here. Sailors deserve

better. And for the guys who get shut up in these cans for months on end….why not the best? Let’s put it this way, all you Admirals….what would Rickover have done?

You know the answer…now go do it.

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