The Navy is making mechanical changes to its fleet of Littoral Combat Ships as a result of maintenance problems experienced during the maiden deployment of the USS Freedom, or LCS 1, service officials said.
The USS Freedom is finishing up its initial deployment, which included stops to Guam, Singapore and the South China Sea.
During the deployment, the USS Freedom experienced problems with its ship service diesel generators, or SSDGs, which resulted in a temporary power outage during a trip to Guam, this past summer. The Freedom also experienced problems with a corroded cable and faulty air compressor, said Capt. Dan Brintzinghoffer, program manager for LCS fleet introduction and sustainment.
The Navy hopes to build as many as 52 LCS ships, multi-mission littoral vessels configured with various “mission-package” technologies for countermine warfare, anti-submarine mission and surface warfare.
Navy engineers and program managers are optimistic that a series of adjustments will benefit the overall LCS fleet.
One such modification is the configuration of the diesel generators planned for LCS 5 and follow-on ships, so as to decrease the likelihood of generator problems persisting on future models.
“LCS 5 has a different configuration of the SSBGs because of the failures and the lessons learned,” said Brintzinghoffer.
He also said adjustments were made to the medium-pressure air compressor, the system on the ship that provides compressed air for various systems.
“The performance of this system has been unsatisfactory for the Navy to date. We made a decision on LCS 3 to change that system out -- both the manufacturer and the make and model. So far, LCS 3, the USS Fort Worth, has had no failures of the new air compressor,” he said.
Recently, the USS Freedom also experienced a corroding cable on the ship that affected the steerable jets. The cable was fixed in Singapore a few weeks ago, a source said.
Unlike other ships, the LCS has a unique propulsion system, designed with four high-tech water jets able to control the angle, speed and direction of the ship, Brintzinghoffer said. There are no propellers or rudders on the LCS—just steerable water jets, giving the platform an ability to reach speeds greater than 40 knots.
The Navy also works at prepositioning parts and specific maintenance kits for key systems and equipment onboard the ship called preventive maintenance systems, or PMS, Brintzinghoffer said.
The LCS fleet relies on condition-based maintenance, a method of using sensors to monitor and compile data about the health and functionality of the systems on the ship. The advantages to this method are numerous, as it allows engineers to identify potential problems early in the process. The earlier problems are discovered, the easier it is to maintain a high degree of functionality onboard and keep repair costs low, Brintzinghoffer said.
In particular, the LCS uses a data-collection system that the Navy has put on the ships as part of a pilot program. Also, the LCS uses Oculus, a Lockheed-built system condition analyzer technology, designed to compile data of a ship’s operational systems.
Condition-based maintenance approaches are designed to recognize key trends for engineers and sustainment experts to analyze. While the technology for near real-time transmission exists, Brintzinghoffer said, there may be tactical circumstances wherein a ship may not want to maintain connectivity.
“You might not always want to have connectivity with the beach, but you need to be able to continue to collect the information so that when the pipes come back up, the data flows. We’re talking about trend analysis,” he said.
The LCS platform has been the subject of criticism and controversy from lawmakers, officials and analysts, due to questions about these types of maintenance problems, survivability questions and mission effectiveness. However, Brintzinghoffer pointed out that this was the ship's first deployment and the Navy expected problems to occur. The repairs and adjustments, he said, will benefit the entire fleet for the future
“We were very successful in executing a 10-month deployment and establishing a forward presence. This is a new program and LCS 1 is a first-in-class surface combatant. We expected there to be some lessons learned. I’m satisfied with our ability to make changes quickly,” Brintzinghoffer said.