U.S. Navy Rejects New Radar Ship

A new ship intended to carry a billion-dollar ballistic missile tracking radar failed its acceptance trials earlier this month and will need repairs before it can enter service, the U.S. Navy said.

The Howard O. Lorenzen (T-AGM 25), built by VT Halter Marine at Moss Point, Miss., is a 12,000-ton, 534-foot-long ship intended to carry the Cobra Judy Replacement (CJR) radar, a key sensor used in treaty monitoring and verification for ballistic missile issues. The ship and the new radar are needed to replace the original 1970s-era Cobra Judy system, now becoming unsustainable and scheduled for decommissioning next year.

The new ship, built under an initial $199 million contract awarded in 2006, has been under construction at VT Halter’s yard since August 2008, when delivery was scheduled for June 2010. The design is based on a pair of Navy survey ships built in the mid-1980s.

The Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey, known as INSURV, conducted the Lorenzen’s acceptance trials in the Gulf of Mexico during the week of May 9, according to the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington. INSURV’s role is to carry out meticulous inspections and tests of the ship and its systems and recommend whether or not the Navy should take delivery.

The trial “was reported as unsatisfactory” by INSURV, NAVSEA said in a statement. The failed grade was due to three major discrepancies – thrust bearing temperature, and steering and anchor demonstrations. Three of 15 graded areas – electrical, damage control and aviation – were also graded unsatisfactory.

INSURV recommended that acceptance not take place until the systems “can be fully re-demonstrated.”

Repairs, NAVSEA said, will take place at Kiewit Offshore Services in Corpus Christi, Texas, where the CJR radar is to be installed. The major components of the CJR active phased-array system were delivered by prime contractor Raytheon to Kiewit Offshore in early April. Raytheon makes the X-band radar of the dual-radar system, while subcontractor Northrop Grumman built the S-band radar.

The radars are not associated with the ship’s problems, a spokesperson for Raytheon confirmed.

VT Halter Marine builds a variety of small and medium-sized commercial and military ships. In recent years, problems have emerged with several ships under construction at the Moss Point yard for U.S. government customers.

Last fall, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for which VT Halter built a number of fisheries research ships, abruptly canceled completion of a new research ship when it was nearly finished, claiming it was overweight and unable to carry out its coastal mapping mission. The ship was seized by NOAA and moved elsewhere for completion and modifications.

In 2005, contract disputes led the U.S. Army to cancel completion of a logistics vessel and delay delivery of two others.


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