by Michael Hansen, Hawaii Shippers Council, January 24, 2016
Another U.S. Navy Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is reported to have suffered a similar mechanical failure 30 days after the USS MILWAUKEE (LCS-5) broke down at sea on December 14, 2915, while on her maiden voyage and had to be towed to port.
This latest casualty calls in question not only the viability of the LCS designs, but also the quality of U.S. shipbuilding supported by Jones Act and Naval construction. The key defense of the U.S. build requirement for commercial Jones Act cabotage is to support the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base for the purpose of national security and constructing naval ships. The poor track record of U.S. naval shipbuilding undermines the argument.
The USS FORT WORTH (LCS-5) broke down on January 12, 2016, while alongside a pier at Singapore’s Changi Naval Base. The FORT WORTH was delivered by Marinette Marine Corp. to the U.S. Navy on June 6, 2012 and commissioned on September 22, 2012.
Naval Technology reporting on January 22nd described the ship’s itinerary, “USS Fort Worth departed from its home port of San Diego in November 2014, and is now on a 16-month rotational deployment to the US seventh fleet in Asia.”
The U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) News reported on January 21st, “The Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) has been sidelined for an indefinite period in Singapore following a casualty in the ship’s propulsion system, a Navy official told USNI News on Thursday. During a Jan. 12 in-port period, the Freedom-class ship suffered damage to its combining gear – the complex gearing that links the output of the ships’ Rolls Royce MT-30 gas turbine engines with its Colt-Pielstick diesel engines and then to the ship’s shafts that drive the water jets.”
USNI News further reported, “The sideling of Fort Worth comes a month after another Freedom-class ship – USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) – suffered a combining gear casualty during an Atlantic transit and had to be towed 40 nautical miles to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story.”
Reuters reported on January 22nd, “The incident comes after a spate of issues involving the Navy's newest class of warships, which were designed to carry out a range of missions, including hunting for mines, submarines and surface warfare. The accident occurred just weeks after Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to truncate orders of the LCS class ships at 40, instead of ordering 52 ships as previously planned, a decision that Navy officials still hope to reverse.”
Bloomberg reported on January 21st, “The Littoral Combat Ship, intended for operations in shallow coastal waters, will face a new round of criticism when the Pentagon operational test office publishes its next annual report later this month. In past assessments, the office has cited doubts about the ship’s reliability and vulnerability.”
Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program
The LCS program was conceived in the early 2000’s to be an inexpensive and relatively smaller replacement for larger frigates and cruisers, and is the U.S. Navy’s newest class of surface combatants These ships were intended to operate in the littoral zone (i.e., coastal waters).
There are two LCS classes currently being constructed. The Freedom Class LCS (odd numbered) is a mono-hull ship built at the Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin, under contract to Lockheed Martin Corporation. The Independence Class LCS (even numbered) is a aluminum hull trimaran designed and built by Austal USA Inc. in Mobile, Alabama. Austal is an Australian owned company, which built the two Hawaiian Superferry vessels at their Mobile yard.
The costs of the LCS program have escalated substantially from the initial estimates. The LCS were originally projected to cost around US $90 million each in 2001, when the program was being conceived. Bloomberg reported in January 2016 the LCS have cost on average about $440 million each, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Reportedly, the most recently delivered Freedom Class MILWAUKEE (LCS-5), which was commissioned by U.S. Navy in November 2015, cost US $437 million from Lockheed Martin/Marinette Marine.
Key excerpts from Bloomberg:
A U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship is sidelined in port in Singapore because of damage to gears that propel the vessel, according to a memo from the service, which blamed failure to use enough lubricating oil.
The USS Fort Worth built by Lockheed Martin Corp. had damage to combining gears that let the ship run on a mix of diesel and gas turbine engines, according to the memo obtained by Bloomberg News. “There is no estimated date of completion” to the repairs, it said.
The incident is the second in little more than a month involving the vessels, which cost on average about $440 million each, according to the Congressional Research Service. The Navy towed the USS Milwaukee more than 40 nautical miles to port in Virginia last month in the Atlantic after its gears failed on Dec. 11, according to the Navy Times. The Navy memo said the two incidents weren’t related.
The latest incident is a setback for a vessel whose critics say is unreliable and not survivable in combat. The last two defense secretaries have cited shortcomings of the ship, built in separate versions by Lockheed and Austal Ltd., and both truncated plans for it. The latest effort came last month when Defense Secretary Ash Carter directed the Navy to reduce the program to 40 vessels from the program’s original 52.
December, 2015: Another Triumph of Jones Act Shipbuilding: USS Milwaukee breaks down on Maiden Voyage