Admiral says USS Miami will be repaired; hints at timing for women submariners at base

Groton — Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert said Wednesday that the Navy will repair a local submarine by the middle of 2015.

The Groton-based USS Miami, which was severely damaged in a fire in May, still has 10 years remaining in its roughly 30-year service life, making it eligible for at least five more deployments.

Greenert discussed the Navy's plans to repair the Miami (SSN 755) with reporters after an hour-long meeting at the Naval Submarine Base with Rear Adm. Richard P. Breckenridge, commander of Submarine Group Two, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

During his visit, Greenert also said female submariners soon could be assigned to the base, as they will begin serving on Virginia-class submarines as early as next year.

When asked about the Navy's plans to continue bringing women aboard submarines, Greenert, the chief of naval operations, said "It's going very well so far," and "now we're ready to move to the Virginia class."

The attack submarines have smaller state rooms so the officers will be brought in incrementally, he said. These are the only type homeported in Groton.

The Navy lifted its ban on women in 2010 and started assigning female officers first to the larger, ballistic-missile and guided-missile submarines.

"Next year we'll be ready to do it, but we have to look closely and see who is interested, what are those numbers," Greenert told the group in the meeting, which was webcast. "They're not quite as high as we thought they would be, frankly, in the officer ranks."

In his comments to reporters, Greenert said he feels comfortable that the Miami's extensive repairs, which mostly will involve cables, pipes and some internal components, can be finished by the middle of 2015 for about $450 million. The components were overheated or damaged by the smoke during the May 23 fire at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. The shipyard worker accused of setting the submarine on fire has been charged with arson.

The Navy released a statement later Wednesday that said the estimated date to complete the repairs is April 30, 2015, so the submarine can serve for an additional decade and complete five planned full-length deployments. The Navy expects to award an advanced planning contract in September, followed by the repair contract in the spring.

The Navy is nearly finished checking the metallurgical aspects of the hull since the intense heat could have changed the circularity and metallurgical makeup, Greenert said, but he doesn't think the hull plating will need major replacements.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard will do most of the repairs, but Greenert does expect Electric Boat to be involved, given the company's expertise as the manufacturer of the submarine.

As Los Angeles-class submarines are retired more quickly than they are being replaced, the Navy is facing a shortfall of attack submarines. The Congressional Budget Office has suggested that the Navy could buy three attack submarines annually for many of the years between 2014 and 2023 to prevent that deficit.

EB and Newport News Shipbuilding are at a "sweet spot," delivering submarines on time and under budget, Greenert said, so he would have to evaluate carefully any potential change to the program.

He said the Navy is looking at other ways to shorten the period of time when there will be fewer than the specified 48 attack submarines — such as performing maintenance quicker, lengthening deployments from six months to six and a half months, and extending the life of some Los Angeles-class submarines by three or four years.

A career submariner who learned his craft at the Naval Submarine School, Greenert said returning to the base Wednesday was like coming home because professionally, he "was born here."

He said the Navy is committed to the base. While nearby Electric Boat builds and launches submarines, the base builds and launches "minds" at the submarine school and prepares "our future submarine force."

"I think it will be here for awhile," he said, adding his prediction that there would not be another round of base closings in the near future, and that the base will have "a bright future here in Connecticut."

The base was nearly closed during the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment process. Blumenthal, who invited Greenert to Groton, said the admiral's allegiance and loyalty to the base is "very apparent, which is heartening to us."

He and Courtney said they were encouraged by the meeting since it appears as though the submarine programs are on track. They discussed the Miami repairs with Greenert, as well as the Virginia-class construction schedule, the program to build a new class of ballistic-missile submarines and the plans to develop a module with missile tubes that could boost firepower on the Virginia-class boats.

"In my view, it was a very positive and upbeat summary of where we are," Blumenthal said.

Courtney said both congressional offices will be "well-positioned to make sure these important priorities really get across the finish line, in terms of both budget and policy bills that both of our committees are working on."

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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