Down to the Sea in Inco’s Alloys (Part 1 of 2)

This backgrounder was produced for Inco employees worldwide in April 1990 by Denise Welker who at that time was a Communications Manager for Inco Alloys International Inc. The Inco Alloys division was sold in the late 1990s.

The sun beamed brilliantly in the flawless blue sky and glimmered on the white hats of 308 sailors as they marched crisply on board ship to the notes of “Anchors Aweigh.”

Thousands of people, some clad in jeans, others in business suites, strained for a view of the huge submarine which stretched under the sailors’ feet like a sleek, black, metallic whale.

Then, with ship’s blessings, patriotic speeches, and a crack of a champagne bottle across her bow, the USS West Virginia officially began service in her country’s defense.

The date – October 14, 1989. the place – the Groton, Connecticut, headquarters of the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation. The occasion – the launching of the eleventh Ohio-class Trident submarine, named for West Virginia,  home state of Inco Alloys International, Inc.

Two days later, Inco Alloys employees around the U.S. celebrated the ship’s launching and shared their pride of participation in the submarine’s construction because without high-nickel alloys, the West Virginia and, indeed, today’s entire nuclear navy could not exist.

Tons of material invented and produced by Inco Alloys International is in use in the USS West Virginia. Inco Alloys developed the high-performance products which provide strength and corrosion resistance necessary for long-term sea service in critical parts of submarines.

David Dalchin, Executive Vice-President of Inco Limited, Inco Alloys’ parent company, said participation in the submarine program gave Inco Alloys the opportunity to be at the leading edge in development and use of new materials for challenging applications. “Inco employees have shown for more than half a century that we can produce to the most exacting standards and for the most critical applications determined by our customers,” he said.

In fact, since Electric Boat’s construction of the first nuclear submarine (the Nautilus, commissioned in 1954) Inco Alloys has been a major participant in the program. Today, Inco Alloys is the number one supplier of high-nickel alloys for submarines, selling materials directly and through distributors to Electric Boat and to contractors which furnish components to the shipbuilder.

Such customers as General Electric, Westinghouse, Babcock and Wilcox, American Welding, Wyman Gordon, Ladish, Argotech, BFM Energy Products and others use Inco Alloys material to fabricate both nuclear and non-nuclear submarine components.

Craig Haines, Jr., vice president for materials at Electric Boat, reminded Inco Alloys employees of their importance to the shipbuilding program during remarks at the submarine celebration in Huntington, West Virginia October 16.

“The quality of Inco Alloys’ materials is unsurpassed. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of your continued efforts to remain number one,” Haines said.

“Nor can I say enough about the critical nature of your products. Every crucial application in the ship – every system open to sea pressure – relies on Inco Alloys materials. And the sailors who serve on that submarine rely day in and day out on what we, collectively, have done to make these the finest ships they can be.”

Haines also discussed the Trident’s place in U.S. defense strategy, a position which a number of military experts believe contributed to the de-escalation  of the arms race.

“The trident program, without a doubt, is our most effective deterrent. It is at the heart of the defense of our country,” he said.

Trident submarines are the largest and most powerful ever built in the non-communist world. The West Virginia is 560 feet long, nearly the length of two football fields. With a pressure hull 42 feet in diameter, she is as tall as a four-story building. The ship can reach speed of more than 20 knots and, when submerged, displaces 18,750 tons. A nuclear reactor powers the vessel, which is built to carry 24 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

A Trident’s assignment is to get lost at sea. It stays at sea with its crew of 154 for 60 days, then returns to port to change crews before resuming its surveillance duty.

Tridents have several advantages over earlier submarines: improved mobility, quietness and speed; ease of maintenance; increased missile range; ability to carry more missiles; and more spacious crew living quarters.

The West Virginia has many sophisticated features, including sensors located outside the pressure hull which provide sharp pictures of underwater activities for miles.

Haines’ view of the Trident program’s importance echoes that of Senator Robert C. Byrd, the senior senator from West Virginia who spoke at the launching and whose wife christened the West Virginia.

“Today we know that any nation with worldwide responsibilities to itself and to its allies must maintain a world-class navy,” Senator Byrd said.

“The West Virginia is tangible proof of the primacy of the United States Navy in a changing world. In an era of ocean spanning missiles, it represents that vital part of our deterrence which houses those missiles under the water, undetected by the enemy, but always preying on the mind of the enemy to deter him from launching an attack on the nation. If we ever were to launch the missiles of the West Virginia, our basic goal, to deter war, would have failed.”

Not only has the Trident submarine program been valuable for world peace, it also has benefited Inco Alloys in ways far broader than mere product sales. As Inco Alloys Research & Development Vice President Don DeBord has pointed out, the Navy nuclear program has been good to the company.

“It is easy to measure the direct benefits of the program to Inco Alloys by counting the tons and dollars of our products that go into each submarine. But there are other benefits which have occurred as a result of the cooperative manner in which we work with Electric Boat and other submarine contractors and agencies,” DeBord explained.

“For example, the quality control/quality assurance system by which our U.S. plants are run was developed as a result of our participation in the Navy nuclear program. The same excellent system which ensures our compliance with the Navy’s stringent requirements is used for our aerospace business, oil country business, electronics business, every industry we serve.”

In addition, DeBord said that working with Navy subcontractors gives Inco Alloys the opportunity to develop more knowledge about how high-nickel alloys can solve particular application problems.

Finally the co-operative effort with Electric Boat and other Navy suppliers provides Inco Alloys insight into possibilities for new alloys which better answer customer needs for products with greater strength, corrosion resistance, or fabricability.

The West Virginia will not be the last submarine to use Inco Alloys materials. The Navy plans to launch another nine Tridents, the next of which will be the USS Kentucky.

Meanwhile, even as the West Virginia undergoes sea trials and is readied for its official acceptance during commissioning ceremonies September 22, 1990. the navy has plans for a different breed of ship to carry the fleet into the future. The SSN21, or Seawolf Class, will be the fastest, quietest, deepest diving and most heavily armed attack submarine ever built in the United States.

Electric Boat is the announced “lead ship” builder of the Seawolf. As it has been for the past 35 years, Inco Alloys expects to be a part of this next generation of submarines.