If No News Is Good News, Here's Navy News

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Bad luck, they say, comes in threes — and the Navy is getting its trio this morning:

— Some of its $2 billion Virginia-class attack submarines — the most costly sub now being built — are shedding their special stealth coatings, which are designed to make them tougher to detect.

— The new F-35 fighter being developed for its aircraft carriers has been grounded because problems with its fuel pump could cause the plane to stall.

— The continuing woes of the Navy’s latest Marine-carrying amphibious ship, the U.S.S. San Antonio, will cost $39 million to fix, well above the initial $7 million estimate.

USS San Antonio/Navy

But all those involve hardware. The most interesting story today involves software — the men and women who sail such vessels.

The former No. 2 officer aboard the San Antonio is demanding a court martial — instead of a lesser non-judicial punishment — to detail problems with the San Antonio’s design that he believes contributed to the death of a sailor early last year. Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns, who has a degree in naval architecture from MIT, wants a military jury to hear how he thinks the vessel played a role in the drowning of sailor Theophilus Ansong on Feb. 4, 2009, in the Gulf of Aden.

Ansong was tossed into the gulf when a small inflatable boat he was in flipped over as it was being lowered from the San Antonio. His body was never recovered. Kearns’ lawyer told a military judge last week that the boat-lowering system aboard the San Antonio was less safe than earlier designs to preserve the San Antonio’s stealthiness — its ability to hide from enemy radars. It’s amazing how the push for one military advantage can cause unexpected costs down the road — or out at sea. Which brings us back to the de-stealthifying molting now taking place on some of those Virginia-class subs. That hasn’t killed anybody, yet.