US Navy to reopen Puget Sound dry docks after seismic retrofit

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy expects to reopen one submarine repair dry dock in Washington by April, with a second opening in May and the third by June, after they were closed due to emerging concerns over their ability to withstand seismic activity.

The Navy on Jan. 27 announced four dry docks would close – dry docks 4, 5 and 6 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the dry dock at Trident Refit Facility Bangor — because even small seismic events “could potentially cause dry dock structural failures that pose a risk to our sailors and workforce and damage to our submarines,” an official told Defense News at the time. The official stressed there was no immediate risk.

In a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel on Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., asked about the status of the repairs.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said the work at Trident Refit Facility Bangor was the most extensive, with fixes needed throughout the dry dock at the facility that repairs Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines. That effort is on track to conclude in June, he said.

At Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where aircraft carriers and attack submarines are repaired and modernized, Gilday said work is focused on portions of the dry docks near where a submarine’s nuclear reactor would be located. One should be completed in April and another in May, he added.

Gilday did not name which Puget Sound dry docks would be completed in which month, nor did he address a timeline for a fourth dry dock.

The Navy asked for $300 million in its unfunded priorities list to Congress for repairs. Gilday said the late 2022 and early 2023 discovery of the problem as well as the analysis of the needed repairs was too late to insert this into the formal budget request. However, he asked Congress to add this funding item during the markup process this year.

In the longer term, the Navy needs to make additional upgrades at the two facilities and potentially elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest to address seismic vulnerabilities. Gilday said the service would consider these upgrades alongside the ongoing Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program, a 20-year effort to modernize and improve the four public shipyards.

Studies for that work are ongoing, and Gilday said it is too early to discuss the scope of potential long-term work.

But the need for this work is clear, he said. “We really count on [Puget Sound Naval Shipyard] in terms of providing submarine maintenance for the fleet.”