Communication. Teamwork. Cross training. A can-do attitude. These are just a few strengths of Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s (NNSY) Fleet Maintenance Submarines (FMB) that helped to significantly increase the amount of maintenance and repairs completed on time this year.
Through the unprecedented challenges fiscal year 2020 brought, including COVID-19, FMB made some changes in order to keep delivering on time at one hundred percent for the first three quarters. “We opened up the communication line wider with Submarine Squadron Six who brokers us the work that is needed on the submarines,” said FMB’s Production Management Assistant Lt. Cmdr. Jerod Cole. “Because of this, it helped us to improve our forecasting resources availability and workload availability.”
FMB, an intermediate maintenance facility, is considered to be a “mini shipyard” located at Naval Station Norfolk. Like NNSY itself, FMB has the same shops and codes to perform maintenance and repairs on submarines. Temporary Air Conditioning and Heating, Electrical and Piping Shop (Shop 99), Shipwrights/Scaffolding/Fabric Shop (Shop 89), Inside Machine Shop (Shop 31), Outside Machine Shop (Shop 38), and the Pipefitter Shop (Shop 56) are some of the shops that work together to keep submarines on schedule for underway periods to complete missions. “We can do most maintenance and repairs that don’t require a dry dock,” said Mast and Antenna Group Shop 67HS’s Work Center Supervisor Machinist Mate Second Class Derek Boulanger.
“NNSY returns submarines back to the fleet, while FMB keeps them in the fleet, so that they can fulfill their mission,” said FMB’s Chief Test Engineer Combat Systems Division Daniel House. “This is why it’s important to ensure we meet our delivery deadlines on time. If we fall behind schedule, then the submarine’s underway schedule could be affected and we do not want that.”
FMB consists of 450 personnel, of which 260 are Sailors and the rest are civilians, unlike NNSY that is made up of a majority of civilian employees. “Being made up of a majority of Sailors has its benefits,” said Cmdr. England. “The civilians here have a wealth of knowledge and experience. They are able to share that with our young Sailors so that they can be better equipped when they leave FMB and go back to the fleet.”
“Sailors, the end users, are able to communicate their experience of actually operating the equipment while underway to the civilians,” said Lt. Cmdr. Cole. “This gives the civilians a better understanding on how the labor that they put into a project is utilized when the boat leaves FMB and goes underway.”
“Our Fleet Maintenance Submarines (FMB) team has done an exemplary job with timely and quality completion of continuous maintenance availabilities,” said Shipyard Commander Capt. Kai Torkelson. “Recent improvements made at FMB in forecasting resource and workload availability supports our fiscal year 2020 focus area of ensuring a Balanced Command Plan. Also of great importance is the ‘win-win’ exchange between our civilians and Sailors—while the civilians pass on artisan knowledge to our Sailors that goes back to the Fleet, the Sailors provide perspective to our civilians on why the work of superior quality and reliable delivery is so important to get right.”
Cross training personnel is another priority FMB emphasizes to help keep delivering at 100 percent. “If a person has multiple qualifications and certifications we can use them to complete a task if the primary person is not available,” said England. “This way we are not wasting valuable time waiting for someone to perform any given task.”
FMB repairs anything that might be needed, and creativity is a must. For example, in December 2019, Virginia Class submarine USS John Warner (SSN 785) had to change out a cable in the ballast tank prior to deployment.
“What made this job challenging is that the John Warner was conducting an exercise that prevented anyone to board or leave the boat, but we were able to use technology to communicate,” said England. “We had to get creative and plan ahead to ensure this cable replacement was done safely and on time.”
While being able to work in a fast-paced environment with an ever changing schedule is paramount at FMB, the group looks forward to keeping up its high standards during the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2020. The goal at finishing the fiscal year at 100 percent is close and if achieved, it will be the first time in a few years it was accomplished. “There is still a lot of work that needs to be done,” said England. “But this FMB family is ready to take it on.”