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US Navy's First Littoral Combat Ship Enters Dry Dock for Repairs

The U.S. Navy is making progress modernizing the first Littoral Combat Ship to deploy by upgrading its systems, adding new software and integrating new equipment, service officials said.

The USS Freedom, or LCS 1, has entered a three-to-four-month dry dock maintenance period wherein it will receive a series of wide-ranging upgrades and repairs, according to Capt. Scott Pratt, Program Manager for Fleet Introduction and Sustainment, LCS.

Some of the activities will include new servers, computer networks and updated software along with improved equipment such as a new sea water cooling system, air compressor and communications antenna, among other things, Pratt told Military.com in an interview.

"There are 34 alterations being done on the ship as part of this maintenance availability," he said. "These changes are comprised of things that will increase reliability."

The USS Freedom made by Lockheed Martin Corp. is also getting outfitted with the same medium pressure air compressor that's now on the USS Fort Worth, or LCS 3, currently deployed in the Pacific theater.

"The air compressors are used to start the diesel engines and they also provide ship service air throughout the ship," Pratt said.

During its initial deployment in 2013, the USS Freedom experienced a wide range of technical and reliability issues, resulting in a series of short and longer-term fixes. In fact, some of the fixes were immediately put in place during construction and development of follow-on LCS ships such as LCS 3, LCS 5 and others.

For instance, while on its deployment, the Freedom experienced a temporary power outage while on route to Guam in the summer of 2013. The ship also experienced problems with a corroded cable and a faulty air compressor. In addition, the ship experienced problems with its ship service diesel generators, or SSDGs, service officials explained.

During its deployment the USS Freedom traveled to Singapore and conducted missions in the South China Sea.

Now, along with improvements to the ship's air compressor, other adjustments during the maintenance period for the USS Freedom include work on the sea water cooling system and communications antenna.

"We are making some improvements in the sea water cooling system and providing a second satellite communications antenna," Pratt said. "We had some communications problems on her last deployment. She (LCS 1) experienced a number of blocking problems where the one antenna could not see the satellite."

With two satellite antennas, LCS 1 will now be like the remaining fleet of LCS ships, which all have two as well.

Improvements to the sea water cooling system are also being done in response to problems the ship experienced on its first deployment.

"The flow of seawater through the cooler was too high so we are making some changes to the sea water system so that the sea water coolers do not wear out, Pratt said.

The USS Freedom is slated for its second deployment during the latter half of 2016, he said.

Prior to the current 90-day maintenance availability, the Navy has implemented a series of fixes and improvements to the USS Freedom as a result of the reliability problems on its first deployment.

One such change resulted in what’s called an anchor windlass replacement, Navy officials said.

"To prevent water ingestion in the anchor windlass room, the existing anchor winch, hydraulic unit and mooring capstan were replaced with a single electric capstan (chain) winch on the main deck. In addition, the existing towing chain was replaced with a lighter chain," Navy spokesman Dale Eng said in November 2013 as the Freedom was finishing up its first deployment.

Also, to improve corrosion protection, the ship's Impressed Current Cathodic Protection system was modified by adding protections to the water jet inlet tunnel; Cathodic Protection is a technique used to control or minimize the corrosion of a metal surface. This change, designed to improve reliability and maintainability, was put into effect on LCS 3, LCS 5 and follow on ships, Eng said.

Other changes put into effect starting on LCS 3 include the lengthening of the stern transom and the integration of the buoyancy tanks into the stern of the hull. The transom stern is the bottom tip of the surface of the stern that approximates the waterline, Navy officials said.

The ship's water jets were modified as well, changing from a mixed flow design to an axial flow in order to reduce air pockets and improve efficiency. With an axial flow, water is pushed in a direction parallel to the shaft of the impeller, a type of propeller.

The end result of implementation of the axial flow water jets is improved operation efficiency with reduced maintenance intervals, Eng said.

Also on the Freedom variant of the LCS, engineers have moved to a significantly less complex gas turbine electric start system on LCS 5, in order to reduce costs and lower ship weight, he added.

So far, four LCS ships have been delivered to the Navy and two more are slated to arrive this summer. After that, two more are planned for delivery this coming winter. Also, there are a total of 19 LCS ships under contract which have yet to be delivered, Navy officials said.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com

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