Aboard USNS Byrd: Anatomy of a SMART inspection

Military Sealift Command thoroughly inspects each Navy ship it operates once every five years. The process, called Ship Material Assessment and Readiness Testing, ensures that vessels are fully functional and operate safely. MSC is the only Navy entity to inspect its own ships – an authority and trust delegated by the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey, which assesses the condition of ships across the fleet. USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4), a West Coast-based dry cargo/ammunition ship, is undergoing a SMART inspection this week. The following blog post highlights some important features of the process.

Aboard USNS Richard E. Byrd, Robert Johnston performs a thermographic inspection of electrical gear.

Aboard USNS Richard E. Byrd, Robert Johnston performs a thermographic inspection of electrical gear.

Like any procedure, a SMART starts with assembling a crack team of experts. The team’s senior leaders come from MSC’s engineering directorate, with a civilian SMART coordinator and two U.S. Navy officers. As needed, representatives are selected to conduct specific tests within their areas of expertise, so that each major feature of the ship – like main propulsion – is vetted. Usually, the team includes about 20 of these experts, drawn from around MSC. Before traveling to Byrd, the inspection team preps test plans that cover each discipline and describe how tests will be performed, and how to collect and assess data.

Once aboard Byrd, the team starts two days of testing in port, doing a laundry list of checks including safeties that ensure all alarms are up and running. The safeties are particularly important for the next phase of tests at sea, when alarms will alert the Byrd’s crew if any test overtaxes the ship. While in port, the team also looks at major systems to make absolutely sure Byrd can get safely underway to sea. After completing initial assessments, the senior SMART leaders brief Byrd’s captain and chief engineer. They make sure that any minor deficiencies are corrected, and the ship sails out of port.

On the open water, Byrd runs a series of tests mandated by the Navy and Coast Guard that are designed to verify every system responds the way it’s supposed to, in the required time frame. Testing includes foam fire fighting and countermeasure wash-down systems, a full-power run, an anchor drop test and a steering test, which examines how quickly Byrd’s rudder responds to the controls.

“Through this inspection, we ensure that our ships are materially sound and ready to face the hazards of the sea and the mission placed upon them,” said Dave Lehy, MSC’s SMART coordinator.

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