The U.S. Navy announced that Norfolk Naval Shipyard successfully completed the conversion of USS La Jolla (SSN 701) into a nuclear power moored training ship.
La Jolla is the first of two next-generation training ships converted at NNSY to become land-based platforms for training nuclear Sailors at the Nuclear Power Training Unit (NPTU) in Charleston, South Carolina. The second, USS San Francisco (SSN 711), has been at NNSY since January 2017.
“Converting USS La Jolla into a moored training ship is a great investment in the Navy’s future and a commitment to fleet excellence,” said CDR John C. Smith, commanding officer. “Training on a more modern plant design provides a major upgrade and equips our sailors with a reliable platform for the years ahead, which is key to ensuring maximum effectiveness across the Fleet.”
As the first MTS conversion ever performed at NNSY, and the Navy’s first one in nearly 30 years, the effort proved similar in many ways to constructing the first ship in a new class. During its conversion, La Jolla underwent two complete hull cuts, separating the boat into three pieces, recycling the center section, and adding three new hull sections, adding 76 feet to the overall ship length. The new hull sections arrived from Electric Boat via barge and were craned into the dock. In the midst of that massive undertaking, the conversion also included work typical of engineered overhauls NNSY conducts on other Los Angeles-class submarines.
“Thank you to everyone who participated in the conversion of USS La Jolla, which was a long and challenging process, but also one important to our growth as an organization and an achievement vital to the development of our Navy Sailors,” said Shipyard Commander Captain Kai Torkelson. “It’s truly a remarkable accomplishment to complete the conversion of a fast-attack submarine into a moored training ship, the closest NNSY has come in more than 60 years to constructing an all-new vessel. Along with USS San Francisco, La Jolla will provide a modern platform for enabling highly skilled and fully capable 21st century fleet operators.”
The conversion’s unprecedented work for the shipyard presented unique challenges in all phases of the project. NNSY naval architects, docking officers and La Jolla project team members collaborated extensively to safely and successfully dock the boat on strongbacks, which are more than twice the height of blocks usually used at NNSY. The docking challenge hinged on having the boat sitting as high in the water as possible without creating an unstable buoyancy condition. This challenge was effectively met by pulling 40,000 pounds of material off the boat before docking, and “superflooding” the dock three feet above the river level during the breasting over of the ship on top of strongbacks. “This is the first time, to my knowledge, that a boat in the U.S. Navy has been dry docked using strongbacks,” said NNSY Stability and Weight Control Branch Lead Engineer Gus Goddin.
Per the NAVSEA Campaign Plan to Expand the Advantage 2.0, shipbuilding and maintenance sites should effectively partner and assist one another as needed, something that’s been done throughout the La Jolla project. “In our work partnering with Electric Boat on the conversion, we also helped build an environment promoting increased levels of innovation, collaboration and knowledge sharing across the shipbuilding, maintenance and repair community,” said Torkelson.
The Navy has used moored training ships for 30 years, with the current two at NPTU—ex-Sam Rayburn (MTS 635) and ex-Daniel Webster (MTS 626)—having been converted at Charleston Naval Shipyard. Following that shipyard’s closure in 1996, NNSY assumed maintenance responsibilities of both Rayburn and Webster, to include their upcoming inactivations.