Freedom-class littoral combat ships like the USS Detroit will be unable to operate at high speeds for the foreseeable future
WASHINGTON: The US Navy has completed a repair design for an issue that left its Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship designs unable to sail at maximum speed, but getting the fix out to the fleet will take significant time — and a still unknown amount of money.
Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the head of program executive office for unmanned and small combatants, told reporters today that negotiations over costs with prime contractor Lockheed Martin are still ongoing, while declining to give a sense of how much the fix is going to cost taxpayers. However, he said that due to the structure of the original contract, a cost share of 50/50 seems likely.
“We will give cost information as soon as we’re able,” Moton said, “but obviously, we’ve got to, just like any contract negotiation, we’ve got to keep that close until we come through that process.”
The issues with the Navy’s Freedom-class LCS combining gear first arose late last year on the Detroit (LCS 7) in October 2020. The combining gear connects the ship’s diesel engines to gas turbines that produce additional power; while the issue is in place, the ships had to be held back from engaging in maximum power. Per Moton, figuring out the repair was a huge undertaking, as it required going deep into the ship’s systems.
“I want to be clear that the gear issue itself was, from my standpoint as the ship owner, was unacceptable,” said Moton. “And the fact that we have any ships that we’ve had to put operating guidance out to the fleet that impacts how they’re able to operate, the fact that the ships have had this risk has been unacceptable. So, it’s caused an impact on operations, there’s no doubt about that.”
The first ship to receive the full fix was the Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS 21). (Not coincidentally, the Navy announced during the call that the service had accepted the new ship at Fincantieri Marinette Marine’s Wisconsin shipyard.) It took around six months for the fix to be worked out for that ship, with another four to five months expected for the work now underway on the Cooperstown (LCS 23), Moton said.
The hope, he said, is that each subsequent fix happens quickly. Ships still in the production phase that will need the new fix added include the LCS 25, 27 and 29. The LCS 31 is far enough in the future that the design fix will be incorporated into the production from the start.
Along those same lines, because the Multi-Mission Surface Combatant, an LCS-derivative purchased by Saudi Arabia, is still in the early stages of production, it will have the fix built in and will not need any new repairs, Moton said.
While the Navy was able to freeze deliveries on new vessels, the open question that remains is how long it will take to repair the rest of the in-service fleet and budgeting in the necessary funding to make that happen.
“Specific plans for incorporating the fix for in-service ships are under Navy assessment,” Moton said. “Until that fix is accomplished, measures remain in effect, as we’ve said before, for the Freedom-variant ships, to allow continued operations while mitigating the risk of combining gear failures of the current design.
“Part of our strategy was to do new construction ships first, so that we can be confident we had the technical fix correctly designed before we began implementing it on the insertions,” he later added.
Ironically, the issue may not impact operations greatly because of how slowly the Navy has deployed LCS. “In practical terms, the delay has almost zero impact because the LCS has, for the most part, not been deployed,” said Bryan Clark, an analyst at the Hudson Institute, told Breaking Defense earlier this year.