With paint and grease, US Navy tries to prolong subs’ life

The U.S. Navy is using a new painting process and dozens of other innovations aimed at reducing the maintenance needs for attack submarines, which are coming out of service faster than they can be replaced. (AP Photo)

GROTON, Connecticut — As it tries to get the most out of each of its $2.6 billion attack submarines, the U.S. Navy is finding a lot depends on the right paint job.

A new painting process that helps keep marine life from fouling the hulls is among dozens of innovations aimed at reducing the maintenance needs for attack submarines, which are coming out of service faster than they can be replaced.

In this Thursday, July 30, 2015 photo, shipyard workers at General Dynamics Electric Boat prepare the submarine Illinois for float-off in Groton, Conn. (AP Photo)
In this Thursday, July 30, 2015 photo, shipyard workers at General Dynamics Electric Boat prepare the submarine Illinois for float-off in Groton, Conn. (AP Photo)

“They’re not very glamorous but they’re huge in terms of payback to the fleet,” said Navy Capt. Mike Stevens, a manager for the Virginia-class submarine program at Naval Sea Systems Command.

The changes were developed by private and government shipyards in response to a request from the Navy, which wants to squeeze more service life out of each vessel. In addition to the paint, updates include water-resistant grease for hatches, a special coating on the metal rods that extend the bow planes to minimize deposits, and redesigned water-lubricated bearings to improve support of the propeller shaft.

In this Thursday, July 30, 2015 photo, shipyard workers at General Dynamics Electric Boat prepare the submarine Illinois for float-off in Groton, Conn.  (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
In this Thursday, July 30, 2015 photo, shipyard workers at General Dynamics Electric Boat prepare the submarine Illinois for float-off in Groton, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

The goal is for the submarines eventually to go eight years between lengthy and expensive major overhaul periods, up from six years currently.

While the submarine force says the demand on its 53 attack subs already exceeds their availability, the number in the fleet is projected to continue a post-Cold War decline and bottom out with 41 in 2029 before it begins rising again due to ramped-up construction, according to the Navy’s shipbuilding plan.

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