WASHINGTON — Investigators have confirmed defective welds repaired on the USS Kitty Hawk in November are the fault of workers at a troublesome San Diego depot, but Navy officials will take only minor action against those responsible.
The Kitty Hawk is the sixth carrier to be found with defective welding. In 2002, the Office of Special Counsel investigated charges of problems on five other carriers and found widespread cases of poor workmanship and welding being done by uncertified workers. The counsel, which released the results of its investigation Monday, said failure from the welding defects on the carrier’s hydraulic piping system “could result in loss of aircraft and possible loss of life.”
The defective couplings were replaced last November, as the ship received other routine maintenance.
Special Counsel Scott Bloch said the new findings relate to the same set of employees and welding problems as the 2002 incidents, but officials could not investigate the Kitty Hawk then because it was deployed at the time.
The other carriers with catapult piping defects were the USS Abraham Lincoln, USS Constellation, USS Nimitz and the USS John C. Stennis; the jet blast deflector cylinder vent piping was found faulty on the USS Carl Vinson.
In response to the 2002 problems, Navy officials introduced a new electronic monitoring system for workers’ certification status and issued suspensions and verbal warnings to several welders, supervisors and inspectors. None of the suspensions was more than three days.
In its report of the incident, the Office of the Naval Inspector General said officials at the Naval Air Depot North Island (NADEP NI) in San Diego opted to suspend a welder an additional three days for the new problems discovered on the Kitty Hawk, and have placed a supervisor on probation.
Bloch called the Navy’s response “reasonable.”
“When you talk about the possible loss of life, the loss of equipment, and the possible loss of mission capability and air support that comes with this, I think proactive steps need to be taken,” he said. “We would have done things differently, but that’s not in our control. We found this to be a reasonable response.”
The counsel’s report notes that Kristin Shott — a former worker at NADEP NI who alerted investigators to the welding problems — objected to the punishments meted out in the Kitty Hawk case, saying they were too lenient.
Bloch said the results of the investigation will now be sent to Congress and President Bush, who will decide if the Navy must take further steps to correct the problems.