Tests to Fix Big Design Flaw Plaguing Navy's Littoral Combat Ships Will Start Soon

Freedom littoral ship
Freedom, the first U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship, is the inaugural ship in an entirely new class of U.S. Navy surface warships is seen underway during day two of Builders Trials. The ship is designed for littoral, or close-to-shore, operations and to provide access and dominance in coastal-water areas. (U.S. Navy photo)

After new deliveries of the Navy's littoral combat ships were halted in January over a serious design flaw, testing will begin this month to fix the problem, the Navy's top admiral said.

Tests to fix problems with the Freedom-class littoral combat ships' combining gear will take place ashore, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told reporters on Monday. The design flaw, first reported by Defense News, is a complex problem that affects four engines' ability to power a water jet that drives the ship up to 40 knots, he said.

"That is the key engineering challenge for us right now, is the combining gear," Gilday said during a virtual Defense Writers Group event. "It seems to be the element that fails the most. It's not the only one, but it's a key one right now that limits our ability to generate forces in a predictable manner for combatant commanders."

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The Navy has tasked the vendor with fixing the problem, Gilday said. The service won't accept any new littoral combat ships until that's done.

"This month, we're going to be doing some shore-based testing, and then we'll be installing, hopefully, a redesigned combining gear in the engineering plant of the new ships that are being built up in Wisconsin," he said. "... We need LCS to be reliable and sustainable at sea."

Lockheed Martin designed the ship, which is built by Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Wisconsin. The combining gear was designed by the German firm RENK AG, according to Defense News. The Navy, Lockheed and RENK AG have worked together on a fix, the outlet reported, but it could take months to install on each ship.

The Navy has 35 littoral combat ships delivered or on contract.

"I remain focused on making the absolute very best that we can out of that program," Gilday said. "We've got some dedicated sailors who love those ships; they love going to sea on them. I want to fulfill their dream and get them out to sea as much as we can so that they can see the world and provide for the national defense."

Mechanical problems on the LCS, which first entered service in 2008, have long been an issue, prompting congressional hearings and threats from lawmakers to end funding for the program. Gilday announced in January plans to divest of the service's first four experimental LCSs and other ships that aren't fit for a fight against sophisticated adversaries.

Still, Gilday said he's committed to providing the country with a reliable and lethal ship. Despite the problems, he still contends its missile, anti-submarine or counter-mine capabilities could prove useful in combat.

But he also sees the LCS serving in other important roles, he said, such as working alongside allies or conducting freedom-of-navigation operations around the globe.

"There's a lot that we can do, and we shouldn't be limited by our imagination," Gilday said.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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