Sail of decommissioned US Navy attack submarine becomes training platform

USS La Jolla (SSN 701) returning to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam after a six-month deployment in 2011. Photo: US Navy

Norfolk Naval Shipyard has removed the sail of former U.S. Navy Los Angeles-class submarine USS La Jolla (SSN 701) earlier in September and will use it as a shipyard training platform.

While the complete conversion of the submarine will dispose of a substantial portion of La Jolla, shipyarders will try to salvage as many of the boat’s components as possible and try and find ways to utilize these items for training, the Naval Sea Systems Command said.

Be it training on periscopes, upper and lower hatches, ventilation and exhaust valves, electrical hull penetrations, hull cuts, piping, staging, painting, and more, the benefits of having the sail for training are wide-ranging.

Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s (NNSY) sheetmetal, outside machine, electrical, pipefitter, painting/blasting, lifting and handling and temporary services shops all stand to benefit from the use of the sail to expand the skills and abilities of their employees.

Having the sail available for such training is the first step for NNSY have the NAVSEA enterprise’s first Sail Learning Center.

While there are still many steps before NNSY has a fully functional center—procuring air compressors and generators, as well as stage building—the shipyard now has a 76,000-pound centerpiece to build around. The sail mock-up will actually be comprised of three parts: the sail and two sections of the pressure hull. With all three sections re-assembled, it will be more than 29 feet tall.

“No other shipyard has a facility like this, so we want to bring in [personnel from] other shipyards, even private ones,” said Stephen Smith, NNSY Sail Learning Center manager.

John Frisch, Training Engineer for NNSY’s Engineering and Planning Department, began the efforts to retain the sail four years ago. With sail work being among the greatest challenges in overhauling fast-attack nuclear submarines, having an actual one for shipyarders to train on was a priority.

Attaining one from the inactivation, reactor compartment disposal, and recycling department at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and intermediate maintenance facility, would have been too costly. So Frisch seized the opportunity to get the La Jolla sail while the conversion project was still in the planning phase. “We kept pursuing it, and finally got it,” said Frisch. “There were many meetings, discussions, and much problem-solving along the way. I’m excited because it was a large project, it’s good for training, and it had never been done before.”

As NNSY’s mechanical group non-nuclear continuing training and development leader, Steven Clouse, pointed out: “The sail will give the entire production team the ability to train cross-functionally to iron out issues that arise during the successful execution of work on the projects. We will also be able to test and prove out new techniques and technology on these components in real live conditions without affecting the project schedule.”

La Jolla will be the first Los Angeles-class submarine to undergo conversion to a to the Nuclear Power Training Unit (NPTU). The current NPTUs in service at Charleston are Daniel Webster (MTS 626), a converted Lafayatte-class ballistic-missile submarine, and Sam Rayburn (MTS 635), a converted James Madison-class ballistic-missile submarine.

La Jolla will remain in service for the majority of the conversion until its reclassification to MTS around August 2017 a few months before the boat is scheduled to complete conversion. La Jolla is expected to provide 20 years of service as a MTS.

Commissioned Oct. 24, 1981 at Naval Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut, La Jolla was the first warship named after the township of La Jolla, California, and the 14th ship of the nuclear-powered Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarines.

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