NOB, Norfolk, VA —
Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center’s (MARMC) Vertical Launch System (VLS) Branch sure knows how to spend a Friday night. It was late afternoon on March 1, when the VLS Branch Head, John Rivera received an urgent phone call from the Executive Officer (XO) of USS Gonzalez (DDG 66).
Gonzalez was performing its final ordnance on-load at Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, Yorktown, Virginia, in preparation for its upcoming deployment. The ship was in the process of on-loading ordnance canisters into the aft VLS launcher when a “canister present switch” was inoperable due to mechanical failure.
“When a canister is lowered into the VLS launcher and properly stowed, it makes the switch and completes the circuit in order to tell the ship’s weapons control system that the launcher is loaded and operational,” said Rivera. “These micro-switches are supposed to close the circuit to the launcher.
When the switch is functioning correctly, it sends a signal allowing the module to communicate with equipment upstream.
The ordnance is contained in a canister, with eight canisters per module. Depending on where the launcher is located, there can be four to eight modules in each launcher. When this type of set switch is not operating, all associated ordnance within that module are not available due to the safety interlock.
Once Rivera received the call from Gonzalez XO, he promptly called one of his VLS certified Systems Maintenance Technician, Bill Crandall. Crandall was already off work and at home for the evening when he received the call for the tech assist. He immediately responded to get parts and tools and was onboard Gonzalez shortly thereafter. He proceeded to troubleshoot the problem and quickly isolated the issue.
“This was a classic tech assist,” Rivera said. “Our technician was able to troubleshoot, make the repair and test it, enabling the ship to complete the ordnance on-load and depart for Naval Station Norfolk as scheduled the next day.”
“The VLS system is the main battery of the ship,” continued Rivera. “Without the VLS, it’s nothing more than a cruise ship. Any impact to the missile launchers is a big deal. Bill really stepped up to the plate on this one. Just because it was so late in the day and the need for a quick turnaround – he had to get it done because they were completing loading the next morning and getting underway. It wasn’t one of those cases where we could say ‘can it wait till morning?’ Yorktown has certain restrictions as to when ships can arrive and depart, so there was a very small window. The last thing the ship wanted to do was return to Yorktown a second time.”
“Upon inspection of the broken components, it was clear to see that the switch used to provide the missile canister present switch had been sheared off,” Crandall said. “I directed ship’s force (S/F) to print the maintenance card that directs the repair and to get danger tags approved to de-energize the system.”
Once the system was properly tagged out, Crandall was able to crawl into the missile plenum and remove and replace the damaged switch. Once the repair was completed, the danger tags were cleared and the system reenergized. Operational tests determined the switch was once again operable, allowing the ship to load their remaining missiles, and depart the Weapons Station for Naval Station Norfolk.
The next day, after the ship had docked at Naval Station Norfolk, Gonzalez couldn’t “see” one of the missiles. The operational tests revealed an issue with the forward VLS launcher. S/F suspected it could be a bad umbilical cable on their forward launcher. VLS certified SMT technician Rob Gjeldum followed up with the ship.
“There were a few things we did to troubleshoot,” said Gjeldum. “The ship wasn’t 100 percent certain that the umbilical cable was the problem, they assumed it was, but we checked some other components before we got to that point in the troubleshooting. They were correct, and we identified a bad umbilical cable, then provided, replaced and tested the system, restoring the VLS system to full operation.”
Thanks to the technical expertise, depth of knowledge and “can do” attitude of MARMC’s VLS team, Gonzalez is once again making preparations for its upcoming deployment.