The U.S. Navy’s $122.3 billion Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program is off to an inauspicious start after faulty welding was discovered in several missile tubes destined for both the Columbia and Virginia-class programs, as well as the United Kingdom’s follow-on SSBN program.
In all, 12 missile tubes manufactured by BWXT, Inc., are being scrutinized for substandard welds. Seven of the 12 had been delivered to prime contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat and were in various stages of outfitting, and five were still under construction. The Navy and Electric Boat have launched an investigation, according to a statement from Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Bill Couch.
“All BWXT welding requiring volumetric inspection has been halted until the investigation is complete,” Couch said.
The bad welds came to light after discrepancies were discovered with the equipment BWXT used to test the welds before shipping them to GDEB, according to a source familiar with the issue.
The discovery of a significant quality control issue at the very outset of fabrication of Columbia injects uncertainty in a program that already has little room for delays. The issue is made even more troubling because it arises from a vendor with an excellent reputation, and raises questions about whether the Navy can deliver Columbia on time, something the Navy says is vital to ensuring continuous nuclear deterrent patrols as the Ohio class reaches the end of its service life.