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All Threats, All Hazards: the Cutter Bertholf readies for Sea Trials

By Hunter C. Keeter

Cutter under construction
Construction of USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750) nears completion at the Northrop Grumman Ship Systems facility in Pascagoula, Miss. (Photo Courtesy of Northrop Grumman Ship Systems)

PASCAGOULA, Miss.—It is a moment that every shipbuilding team looks forward to with anticipation, and a little trepidation: the date of delivery. For the Coast Guard and the Northrop Grumman Ship Systems/Lockheed Martin team building the new National Security Cutter (NSC), three years of hard work overcoming challenges (like Hurricane Katrina) are coming to an end, as the government prepares to evaluate the ship for acceptance.

Upon completion of sea trials early next calendar year, the Bertholf will be recommended for delivery –a formal milestone in the new ship’s lifecycle, marking the date of the Coast Guard’s acceptance of the ship. Delivery –slated for mid-fiscal year 2008– is the date when custody of the NSC transfers from the shipbuilder to the government and from the Coast Guard’s project office to the ship’s captain and crew.

There is a great deal of work to accomplish between now and the project’s final exam.

Builder’s trials will be conducted by the contractor, with oversight and review by the Coast Guard’s Project Manager’s Resident Office (PMRO) Gulf Coast. The objective of builder’s trials is to demonstrate the readiness of the ship for acceptance testing (which may be thought of as a final exam before the delivery of a new vessel).

Conducted in two phases, builder’s trials begin with dock testing –which demonstrate the readiness of the ship’s machinery, equipment and systems. At-sea testing follows, to demonstrate that the ship is seaworthy and that its equipment is fully operational across all functional areas: aviation, auxiliaries, combat system, damage control, deck, electrical, environmental protection, habitability, main propulsion, medical/dental, navigation, planned maintenance, repair, and supply.

The Coast Guard and industry will work together to address any deficiencies noted during the tests. Some items may require materiel improvements or changes, while others may simply require documentation to justify the condition and report on its impact to the ship’s overall functionality.

When the PMRO and the builder are satisfied that the Bertholf is ready for delivery, the government conducts acceptance testing. This will mark an important “first” for the NSC: the participation of the U.S. Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey, or INSURV, which has partnered with the Coast Guard under a September 2003 memorandum of understanding.

INSURV will inspect the Bertholf and identify any major deficiencies that must be corrected prior to delivery. Based on INSURV’s acceptance trials report, the president of the board, Rear Adm. Raymond M. Klein, USN, may recommend to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen whether the service should accept delivery of the NSC 1.

According to the Coast Guard and the shipbuilder, an important goal toward earning the recommendation for delivery and acceptance is to minimize the number of deficiencies that the INSURV team may find during its inspection.

“There will always be discrepancies when we are dealing with a complex system like a first-of-class ship, this is true for the Coast Guard and for the Navy as well,” NSC Technical Manager, Richard Celotto, said during an interview at his Arlington, Va., office. “What we hope to get from the INSURV team and our own evaluators is a manageable list of items that, after we complete them, we can recommend that the NSC is ready for acceptance. So part of our goal is to minimize the number of items on that list.”

The Coast Guard’s relationship with INSURV and other third-party partners has helped build confidence in the project management team. INSURV’s independent review is one of many elements of oversight that the NSC project has in place to ensure the new cutters meet the most stringent government standards.

“We are getting the same kind of critical oversight as all naval vessels receive,” said Cmdr. Douglas M. Schofield, the PMRO’s deputy. “We look for continuity, trying to leverage the same processes that the Navy has had in place for a number of years, and that the shipbuilders are very familiar with.”

The Navy has provided other support, including personnel from the Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair (SUPSHIP), the Department of Defense’s administrator for all shipbuilding, conversion, repair and modernization contracts. The organization also serves as the Navy’s technical, contractual and business agent for all projects and contracts assigned to private sector shipbuilding firms. In partnership with the Coast Guard, SUPSHIP has brought its experience to the NSC.

Paul E. McIntosh is the NSC deputy program manager’s representative, leading a 12-member department of SUPSHIP personnel assigned to the PMRO. McIntosh noted that there has been extensive government oversight at the PMRO, including drawing reviews, process evaluations, quality assurance inspections, and documentation of all the work to be accomplished through the end of the production and test cycle.

Prior to acceptance, the NSC must pass 438 tests, including approximately 66 tests to be completed during the sea trials. The project office is a little more than halfway through the test schedule now. With the pace of construction and testing intensifying toward the scheduled delivery date, the NSC project office is preparing to meet any challenges identified by INSURV and others.

“While only a lucky few will be aboard the Bertholf for trials, hundreds of people will be getting ready to react to any discrepancies they find at sea,” NSC technical manager Richard Celotto said during an interview from his office at Arlington, Va. “We will analyze any challenges that might turn up, and develop any fixes that are necessary prior to acceptance trials [early] next year.”

A Sense of Accomplishment

Meanwhile, the PMRO and shipyard are putting the finishing touches on the Bertholf. One of the benchmarks of progress is the compartment completion process, which evaluates the Bertholf’s compartments by type –such as fuel or water tanks, berthing spaces, machinery rooms, etc. As each compartment is completed, the shipbuilder and the Coast Guard evaluate whether the space is clean and its equipment is functional. Satisfactory compartments are then locked and considered “sold.”

U.S. Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV

Norfolk, Va.-based INSURV was established in 1868 under Adm. David Glasgow Farragut, USN. The INSURV board has statutory authority under an act of Congress passed Aug. 5, 1882. Since that time, INSURV has been the lead agency for ensuring the mission readiness of the U.S. Navy’s fleet.

Recent inspections conducted by INSURV include the evaluation of new vessels, such as the USS San Antonio (LPD 17) and the USS Sampson (DDG 102); as well as materiel inspection of older ships, such as the USS Enterprise (CVN 65); and a combat systems assessment of the USS Cole (DDG 67).

According to Capt. Thomas Holman, USN, Board of Inspection and Survey Deputy Chief of Staff for Surface Trials, the Coast Guard PMRO will have the lead in evaluating the NSC-1.

“INSURV’s role will be to support the U.S. Coast Guard in determining the materiel readiness of Bertholf for acceptance,” Holman said. “Our mutually shared goal (that is Coast Guard and Navy) is to ensure new construction ships are inspected thoroughly and consistently, and that serious deficiencies are corrected prior to vessel delivery to the government”

To prepare for an INSURV inspection, a ship’s project office and the shipbuilder certify that builder’s trials are satisfactorily complete, and that any deficiencies have been corrected. All ship’s systems are expected to be energized under ship’s power and operational during acceptance trials. Any non-safety-related deficiencies are to be documented on items waived for correction after the trials period.

Of the 393 compartments on NSC 1, 146 have been reviewed and accepted by the Coast Guard.

Already, the Bertholf has passed through a number of discrete but important test events involving individual systems or components. For example, propulsion and generator equipment light-off (accomplished at the end of the summer) has been an important milestone on the way to builder’s dock trials. Further tests will demonstrate the functionality of the ship’s combined diesel and gas turbine propulsion system, reduction gear and propeller shafts. Successful completion of propulsion dock trials will be a major accomplishment, according to Richard C. Vick, a Coast Guard shipbuilding specialist with PMRO Gulf Coast.

As the Bertholf, nears completion and is readied for delivery, the shipyard’s workforce and the PMRO are beginning to see the return on their investment of tens of thousands of hours of work. SUPSHIP’s McIntosh perhaps put it best when he said:

“There isn’t anybody that ever gets up in the morning and comes down here saying, I’m not going to do my best. We are all focused on that. … Our job is to put the right tools, training and materiel in the hands of the craftsmen that are building the ship. We are trying to make sure that programmatically these guys have a path to success. That is an easy thing to team with industry and the Navy about, and we find common ground doing that.”

Last Modified 1/12/2016