Navy officials issued a preliminary cost estimate Tuesday of $400 million to repair the nuclear submarine that burned last month at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery -- if the sub can be fixed at all.
Navy investigators are still examining the USS Miami to determine the extent of the damage and whether the vessel can be saved. The Navy must be sure that the steel hull was not damaged so badly that it cannot withstand the intense pressure of the deep ocean.
Fire broke out in the forward compartments of the submarine May 23 and burned for 10 hours as firefighters from three states fought to extinguish it.
Members of Maine's congressional delegation said the shipyard is in a good position to make the repairs if the Navy decides to go ahead.
"That ($400 million) number certainly could change, but I think it's a workable figure and I'm optimistic that this means the boat is repairable, that the work can be done at Kittery and the Navy will be able to come up with the money for the repair," said U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, who toured the submarine Monday. Pingree is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has a Defense Appropriations subcommittee that may be in a position to seek additional money in the defense spending bill to make the repairs. The House has already passed its version of the bill.
"Should the Navy determine ... that the Miami can safely operate following repairs, I stand ready to work to help ensure the Navy has the necessary funds," Collins said.
She said the dry dock at the shipyard where the USS Miami was getting a 20-month engineered refueling overhaul was due to be vacant for 14 months once work on the Miami was finished. That means extended repairs can be done without affecting the Navy's current maintenance schedule.
The $400 million repair estimate is twice the cost of the initial overhaul, which was intended to extend the Miami's useful life by 10 years. But it's a fraction of the roughly $2 billion it costs to build the latest generation of submarines, the Virginia class.
Pingree's spokesman, Willy Ritch, said it is not clear whether the $400 million would be in addition to the $200 million already budgeted for the overhaul.
The Miami, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, cost $900 million to build in 1990.
The number of U.S. attack submarines is projected to drop in the coming years as older submarines are retired more quickly than they are replaced. Pingree said Monday that the Navy had 98 submarines in the late 1980s and will have 43 in 2020. A 1999 Defense Department study recommended a minimum of 55 submarines in 2015 and 62 in 2025.
Navy officials have said that makes each submarine increasingly important.
The cost of repairing the Miami after the fire would have been higher, but many pieces of expensive equipment had been removed as part of the overhaul. Also, the fire did not damage the rear half of the sub, where the nuclear propulsion system is located.
Pingree was notified of the repair estimate Monday night in a telephone call from Navy officials, Ritch said.
"When I was at the yard (Monday), every indication I got from the workers there was that they could fix the Miami," Pingree said in a news release. "Nothing is official yet, but this preliminary estimate gives us more reason to believe the ship will be repaired right here in Kittery."