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SERMC Leads Last Frigate into Decommissioning

By Dan Smithyman, SERMC Public Affairs | SERMC | Aug. 19, 2015

MAYPORT Florida —

When USS Simpson (FFG 56) decommissions at the end of September, the U.S. Navy will be left with only one active frigate on the books.

Simpson, the last active Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, is being prepared for inactivation as she takes a sabbatical from active service prior to being sold to another country through the State Department’s foreign military sales (FMS) program. 

A number of frigates have met the same fate.  The U.S. sold frigates to Bahrain, Egypt, Poland, Turkey and Pakistan.

The Southeast Regional Maintenance Center (SERMC) in Mayport, Florida has the honor of leading Simpson to her historic end of American service.  But it’s a far cry from turning out the lights and locking the doors to send Simpson into deactivation and ultimately overseas sale. 

There are engineering requirements and painstaking logistical events that go into deactivating a ship.   SERMC joins the ship’s crew and local contractors in preparing the Navy’s last frigate to join the inactive reserve.  Only then will Simpson make the journey to Philadelphia where she will wait to be sold.

“We’re lucky,” said Renee Justice, port engineer in charge of Simpson’s decommission preps.  “Simpson has a great crew.  We just passed the milestone where we are to have 25 percent of the spaces closed out, and Simpson is at 56 percent closed.”

Spaces are systematically prepared, inspected and closed.  Classified material must be removed with the bottom drawer of each file cabinet or desk standing open.  Justice said it forces the inspectors to look underneath to make sure nothing has fallen from the drawers to the back inside of the furniture. 

Justice also explained that all shipboard fluids have to be drained. 

“The fire main and chill water have to be drained.  Contractors deactivate CHT (collection, holding and transfer of the ship’s sewage), AFFF (aqueous film-forming foam) stations are drained and fan coil units are drained,” Justice said.  “Philly is cold in the winter, so it’s really important to drain the fluids to keep the pipes from bursting.” 

There’s also a threat of flooding through any number of valve openings to the sea.  SERMC has a way to mitigate that threat too.

“We have to ‘blank’ all the sea valves, anything within four feet of the water line,” said Nadia Tepper, the project manager assigned to Simpson.  “We also blank all intakes and vents so no foreign particles come in.”

The blanking process means a steel plate and rubber gasket are attached to cap all the pipes and valves leading outside.  Nothing comes in or out of these valves.  Tepper said there are 91 sea valves that must be capped.  Many openings will have cofferdams attached under the ship by Navy divers assigned to SERMC.  She said divers will also wrap and pack the shaft and stern tube so there’s no possible way of flooding during tow or when she sits awaiting reactivation.

Because Simpson will see action again under a different flag, many of the ship’s systems are not dismantled or removed, but put in a “layup” condition such that the systems will require little effort to restart.

“Electronics are put in layup,” Tepper said.  “Some combat systems are removed, along with the classified gear.  CIWS (Close-In Weapons System) will be gone at the end of August.”

According to the Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard is harvesting weapons systems components from decommissioned Navy Perry-class frigates to save money, with more than $24 million in cost savings so far.  Equipment including Mk 75, 76 mm/62 caliber gun mounts, gun control panels, barrels, launchers, junction boxes, and other components will be returned to service aboard Famous-class cutters to extend their service lives into the 2030s.  Tepper said whatever is reused must be in working condition and continue to meet military specifications. 

Simpson returned June 14 from deployment and started her decommissioning availability July 6. 

“We started preparing for decommissioning before we even returned from deployment,” said Ens. Jamar Miles, gunnery officer for Simpson and her public affairs officer.  “We collected all the historic items and prepared them for shipping to the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington DC.”

Miles said there were boxes and boxes of artifacts.  The ship’s bell, many times used for christening/baptism, was used one last time on July 24 when a crewmember christened two of his children.

Simpson will have a ceremony to celebrate her 30 years of service, and the crew will scatter to other ships and duty stations throughout the fleet.  The only thing left is towing her to Philadelphia.

Tepper said towing a ship in the open ocean requires a special tow package.  SERMC contracted workers to add boarding ladders, rigging gear and ten pad eyes where the tow master needs them to ensure a safe journey north.  Contractors weld a locking device to the head of the shaft to prevent it from turning while under tow.  The rudder is also locked at zero degrees position, or amidship. 

Justice said Simpson will go into a dry dock maintenance availability and the State Dept. will look at the CSMP (Current Ship’s Maintenance Project) to see what needs to be fixed prior to FMS. 

“That’s another crucial part of the decomm process: documenting all the ship’s problems on the CSMP,” Justice said.

Both Tepper and Justice said the crew has been outstanding and very responsive. 

“Working collaboratively with contractors, SERMC and ship’s force have been the difference in being so far ahead of schedule,” Tepper said. 

USS Kauffman (FFG 59) was to have been the last “fig” to be retired, scheduled for Sept. 25, but a deployment extension on Simpson pushed her decommissioning date back from August to Sept. 29.   

Perhaps Simpson's greatest claim to fame came on her first overseas deployment in January 1988.  The ship was assigned as an escort to U.S.-flagged merchant vessels in the Arabian Gulf.  On  April 18, 1988, Simpson was a principle ship of Operation Praying Mantis responding to the Iranian mine attack on USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58).  Operating in conjunction with two other Navy ships, Simpson was responsible for the destruction of an Iranian oil platform and sinking the Iranian Navy missile patrol combatant, Joshan.

Navy records indicate the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates were designed primarily as anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare guided-missile warships intended to provide open-ocean escort of amphibious warfare ships and merchant ship convoys.  This class was designed to be capable of withstanding considerable damage and that was proven when USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine, and USS Stark was hit by two Exocet cruise missiles. In both cases, the ships survived, were repaired and returned to the fleet.

Many are sad to see the Perrys go, but it’s part of the natural evolution of ships and warfighting.  This class of frigate will eventually be replaced by Littoral Combat Ships and eventually a newer variant of the LCS, also called frigates. 

When Simpson goes, one of the Navy’s frigate bookends will fall off the shelf leaving only USS Constitution on the active books as the only frigate in commission.  A true testament to the resiliency of the American frigate, Constitution is 218 years old.