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CGN 9 Long Beach - Construction

The application of nuclear propulsion to the surface fleet had apparently begun well. In three consecutive fiscal years the Eisenhower administration had requested and Congress had approved three different types of nuclear-powered surface ships: the cruiser Long Beach in 1957, the attack carrier Enterprise in 1958, and the frigate Bainbridge in 1959. Each was a major warship. Cruisers had a long and distinguished history stretching back to the beginning of the steam navy. The Long Beach, however, was to be something special. It was the first cruiser designed by the navy since the end of World War II. Not only was it to be nuclear powered, but the Long Beach would also be the navy's first large ship armed only with missiles. Talos and Terrier surface-to-air missiles would provide air defense, while Regulus [enver actuallly fitted], an air-breathing surface-to-surface missile, would strike at targets several hundred miles away. The Long Beach was the most notorious example of the cost and schduel problems of the day an original estimate of about $80 million had soared to $250 million. From information reaching him John A. McCone, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, believed that the Russians were having trouble in completing their nuclear-powered icebreaker Lenin. If this were so and if the Americans sped up the work on the Long Beach, the United States could have the first nuclear-powered surface ship an achievement to place beside the first nuclear submarine and the first nuclear power plant. The idea did not last long. As the schedule stood, Quincy was to finish the ship in mid-October 1960, except for the missile systems. By cutting back even more on the degree of completion, it might be possible to get the ship to sea in July 1960. In the new timetable the propulsion plant would be the pacing item, but Rickover thought he could meet the goal with an additional $1 or $2 million. His inspection of the Lenin during his trip to Russia with Vice President Nixon's party gave him confidence in his view. In July 1959 Burke and McCone drew back. Burke suspected that the effort would take more funds than anticipated; McCone felt the chance of success too slim to warrant the extra expenditure. Rickover knew that speeding up the work on the Long Beach would be tough. Over the years Quincy had gotten a poor reputation for its work, labor relations, material control, and management. He thought the cost of the work high and the accounting practices lax. Several times he had complained to the management about the shortage of competent engineers and the lack of aggressive supervisory personnel, but corrective actions had been sporadic and short-lived. Late in the year he sent four of his own engineers to Quincy. All were top flight; all had somewhat different backgrounds; all were from different offices. Panoff was from the Washington headquarters, John W. Crawford, Jr, was the Naval Reactors representative at Newport News, James W. Carpenter was the Naval Reactors representative at Electric Boat, and John T. Stiefel from Westinghouse was the manager of surface-ship projects at Bettis. For thirteen days at Quincy they studied the yard's organization, observed work, and with the permission of management, interviewed individual supervisors. The conclusions were grim. Quincy personnel appeared to be lower in caliber, competence, and potential than to those of other yards. The material control system was antiquated, responsibility was fragmented, and communication between levels of management was poor. It was hard to find anyone who had a complete picture of the work to be done. The length of time Rickover allowed his men to be away from their jobs showed the depth of his concern. One observation was unusually interesting. Management did not feel it was doing a bad job, but thought the unique demands of nuclear propulsion were the main source of the difficulties. To the Naval Reactors team the troubles lay elsewhere in such conventional areas as poor welding and brazing and inadequate planning. Were these done properly Quincy could be on top of the job. Nothing in the report surprised Naval Reactors. Its experience had shown that too often technical specifications and standards were regarded by workmen and management as useful goals that need not actually be met. While this attitude might have been tolerated in the past, it was clearly not acceptable for the new technology. The key to cutting costs lay in improving ordinary construction techniques. In a meeting with Burke on 1 December 1959, Rickover recommended sending a small group of officers to Quincy to see how Naval Reactors supervised its work and compare that effort with other areas of construction.i9 Doing the job right the first time was a lot cheaper than going back and redoing it. Burke decided to send an ad hoc committee to Quincy to examine the Long Beach and to Newport News to investigate the Enterprise. To lead the group he selected Rear Admiral Miles H. Hubbard. Although not an engineer, Hubbard had served briefly as chief of the Bureau of Ordnance. Other members included a captain from the Bureau of Ships, a supply officer, and Captain Eugene P. Wilkinson, prospective commanding officer of the Long Beach. In one vital aspect the job of the committee differed from what Rickover had proposed. Instead of looking into the causes of poor construction, the committee was to examine the reason for the escalating cost of nuclear-powered ships. For twelve days beginning on 4 January 1960 at Quincy and for three days beginning on January 20 at Newport News, the Hubbard committee talked to individuals ranging from senior management to supervisory personnel on the working level. At each yard Rickover made available to the committee the Naval Reactors representative and his report. Hubbard kept the sessions informal. All he wanted was information voluntarily offered him; he was neither conducting a formal investigation nor taking statements under oath. The Hubbard report came out on February 25. The committee investigated the number of changes that had been made in the specifications for each ship and traced the cost history, breaking it down into categories of construction plans and construction, electronic equipment, nuclear propulsion equipment, post-delivery work, and ordnance. For both ships every category showed an increase except one the exception was ordnance for the Enterprise; in order to keep costs down, a weapon system had been deleted.

The original estimate for the total cost of the Long Beach was almost $85 million; the latest projected cost was $313 million, an increase of 3.7-times. The original estimate for the nuclear propulsion equipment was $26 million; the latest projected estimate was $41 million, an increase of over 1.5 times.

The committee reached several conclusions. Of the two yards, Newport News was doing the better work. Quincy had been plagued by inefficient management, poor supervision in the lower levels, bad labor relations, resistance to efforts to improve productivity, and a lack of pride in workmanship.

A problem in both yards was Rickover's tight control over the nuclear work. Admitting the need for close supervision, the committee found that the exercise of authority was so great that the builders seemed to be working for two masters: the supervisor of shipbuilding, an officer who represented the navy at the yard, and Rickover's representative.

The committee heard that because the Naval Reactors representative bypassed the supervisor during technical discussions and kept him informed after the fact, the supervisor was not able to coordinate the efforts of the government. Nor was this all. The gap between the supervisors and the Naval Reactors representatives reflected the situation within the bureau where "the same schism . . . bears bitter fruit at all operating levels."

The Hubbard committee saw no reason to push ahead and build more nuclear-powered ships until those now building were thoroughly tested at sea. There was little hope that pressurized-water reactors would ever be competitive with oil-fired plants; the technology was too expensive and the propulsion plants too heavy for the horsepower they provided. The committee reached the conclusion that the navy needed surface ships with greatly increased antiaircraft and antisubmarine warfare weapons and sensors; so long as cost was a factor, these should take priority over nuclear propulsion.

Although angry, Rickover was not surprised at the report. He already knew that the purpose of the committee was not what he had proposed. Furthermore, by concentrating on nuclear propulsion the committee had inadvertently caused rumors that it was out to get Rickover. As for having two organizations at the shipyard, Rickover pointed out that it had been the usual practices and procedures that had allowed the situation to develop in the first place and had failed to correct it. With some irony he observed that the committee had found that new technology demanded new standards of control; these were exactly what he was providing for the nuclear work. The techniques and efforts made by Naval Reactors showed what could be done.

There was never any chance that Rickover would decrease his role in the yards: indeed, the lesson of Quincy was that he could not. Perhaps the most significant part of the report was the committee's extreme reservations about the future of nuclear propulsion for surface ships until some lighter and cheaper reactor was developed than that based on pressurized-water technology.

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Page last modified: 07-02-2016 19:41:59 ZULU