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LPD-17 SAN ANTONIO Class Challenges
(formerly LX Class)

The LPD 17 program was said to represent the Navy's best case of capitalizing on acquisition reform. Examples included:

  • early industry involvement to solicit ideas on design, production and cost reduction;
  • teaming of shipbuilders and combat systems integrators to pool organizational strengths;
  • developing a "teaming for life" concept where the winner of the LPD 17 will have the opportunity to provide the Navy with life cycle support;
  • reduced Mil-Specs requirements to only those few that are absolutely essential.

But the construction program for the LPD-17 was a troubled one. The 1996 selected acquisition report estimated that a 12-ship program would cost an average of about $830 million per ship. Eight years later, that cost had grown by more than 50 percent--to an average of about $1.3 billion per ship, CBO estimates. The Navy's 2004 selected acquisition report estimated that a 12-ship program would cost about $1.2 billion per ship, on average. As of 2004 the Navy attributed 14 percent of the cost growth to additional inflation, 28 percent to the restructuring of the procurement schedule, 29 percent to the complexity of the design and to higher labor and overhead rates, 25 percent to the challenges of integrating the ship's systems and the materials used, and 4 percent to additional outfitting costs.

According to the program office the LPD 17 Amphibious Transport Dock, which was delivered to the Navy in July 2005, experienced numerous quality problems of varying degrees that significantly impacted the ship's mission. These problems contributed to a delay of 3 years in the delivery of the ship and a cost increase of $846 million. According to Navy program officials, some of the problems are typical of those of a first ship of class production. Many of the problems can be attributed to systems engineering, manufacturing, and supplier issues.

In June 2007, the Secretary of the Navy sent a letter to the Chairman of the Board of Northrop Grumman expressing his concerns for the contractor's ability to construct and deliver ships that conform to the quality standards maintained by the Navy and that adhere to the cost and schedule commitments agreed upon. Northrop Grumman's Chairman acknowledged that the company was aware of the problems and is working on improving its processes.

Many of the system engineering problems on the LPD 17 can be attributed to the software-based design tool used by the contractors. The contractor selected a 3-D model to fulfill Navy requirements, the Integraph software package, which had been used in large construction efforts but not fully adapted for shipbuilding. It was intended for workers to design systems and extract drawings from this 3-D model. The modification of this design tool, at the same time the ship was under design, caused delays in the release of production drawings. According to the program office, Northrop Grumman experienced some difficulty in acquiring and training qualified personnel to use the system. Consequently, the program experienced higher than expected engineering hours due to a large number of design drawings that required rework. Design rework also affected the sequencing of work being done on the ship as well as the accuracy of that work. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems officials stated that completing design work after beginning ship construction affects both the work schedule and the quality of work.

The LPD 17 encountered a problem with the isolators on titanium piping. The isolators are used to separate different types of metals to keep them from corroding. The problem was discovered in 2006, about a year after the launch of the first ship. According to DOD program officials, the titanium piping is used throughout the ship because it is lighter than the traditional copper-nickel piping and has a longer service life. However, it has not been used much in naval surface ships or by the American shipbuilding industry, and therefore required new manufacturing and installation processes. According to the program office, these processes were being developed as Northrop Grumman Ship Systems was building the ship. In addition, designs for the piping hangers, which hold the piping in place, as well as tests of the isolators were subsequently delayed. When the titanium piping on the ship was changed, the hanger design had to be modified as well. The final hanger design was not completed until about 90 percent of the titanium piping was already on the ship, which resulted in additional rework and schedule delays.

The LPD 17 Class has had problems associated with its steering system as well. Hydraulic fluid contamination occurred during system flushing. System flushing is completed in order to clean out a system and involves running fluid throughout the piping. Additionally, there were problems in keeping air out of the system. After investigation, several steps were taken to mitigate these issues including installing additional filters, modifying the flushing procedures, and modifying the system design.

The ship encountered problems with faulty welds on P-1 piping systems, a designation used in high-temperature, high-pressure, and other critical systems. This class of piping is used primarily in hydraulic applications in engineering and machinery spaces. P-1 piping systems require more extensive weld documentation than other pipes as they are part of critical systems and could cause significant damage to the ship and crew if they failed. Welds of this nature must be documented to ensure they were completed by qualified personnel and inspected for structural integrity. Further investigation revealed that weld inspection documentation was incomplete. As a result, increased rework levels were necessary to correct deficiencies and to re-inspect all the welds. Failure to complete this work would have increased the risk of weld failure and potentially presented a hazard to the ship and crew. According to the program office, a contributing factor was turnover in production personnel and their lack of knowledge on how to complete the proper documentation.

The program also experienced problems with non-skid applications, a type of coating used on the ship. The non-skid application is different from traditional surface coatings in that it creates a rough surface when it has dried. This is particularly important on a ship because it provides increased traction when wet as opposed to traditional surface coatings. One problem the program encountered with this particular type of coating was in preparation. When applying non-skid application, it is important to have a clean surface free of dirt and debris. Additionally, high humidity levels found along the Gulf Coast, where the ship was built interfere with the bonding process and require dehumidification. These conditions have been difficult to consistently achieve in a construction environment. As a result, the non-skid would not adhere properly and began to peel away. As of November 2007, no change in process has occurred.

The ship program also experienced numerous supplier quality problems. For example, an inspection completed in March of 2007 identified the reverse osmosis units, which provide drinkable water to the crew, as one of the most troubled systems onboard the ship. At the time of the inspection, one of the three units was out of commission, one was unable to produce to capacity, and one was operational but unreliable. In this condition, the ship would not be able to support embarked troops for extended periods at sea and, as a result, the mission of the ship would be limited. During the design phase, it was determined that currently available reverse osmosis units could not meet the ship's output requirements. Therefore, a new design was developed specifically for the LPD 17 Class. Problems with the reverse osmosis units were caused by premature failures of some mechanical and electrical components. According to the Navy program office, the supplier of the ship's reverse osmosis units did not use parts rugged enough for the ship's needs. This supplier is providing reverse osmosis units for all ships in the LPD 17 Class. Consequently, the LPD 18 and LPD 19 will need to have their units reworked as well. According to the program office, the vendor is now using more rugged parts and will provide properly working units for the LPD 20, the fourth ship to be delivered in this class, and all subsequent ships.



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