The Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom (LCS-1) is sidelined in San Diego, Calif. for repairs after Navy inspectors found extensive damage in one of its two main propulsion diesel engines, Navy officials confirmed to USNI News on Sunday.
The damaged Colt-Pielstick diesel engine needs to be replaced or rebuilt after the inspectors found that the engine’s lube oil system had been contaminated with seawater over a period of several weeks, Lt. Rebecca Haggard, with Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, told USNI News on Sunday.
Freedom’s number two main propulsion diesel was initially contaminated on July 11 when, “a leak from the attached seawater pump mechanical seal… resulted in seawater entering the engine lube oil system,” according to a timeline of the casualty provided to USNI News.
“The crew took action to address the leak, and Freedom returned to homeport July 13 on her own power to conduct repairs on a separate, unrelated issue. While in port, the crew performed seawater contamination procedures.”
Freedom returned to sea on July 19th to the 28th to complete its role in the Rim of the Pacific 2016 Southern California exercise operating on its Rolls-Royce MT 30 gas turbines rather than its main propulsion diesel engines.
Following the exercise, Freedom to returned to port where on Aug. 3 a Southwest Regional Maintenance Center’s Diesel Engine Inspector looked at the engine and found, “significant damage to the engine caused by rust and seawater,” Haggard said.
“Based on initial assessments from the inspection, Freedom’s number two MPDE will need to be removed and rebuilt or replaced. The cost and timeline for the repair of the engine are unknown at this time.”
Given the type of damage, SURFPAC is launching an investigation into the incident to determine the cause of the casualty – mechanical failure, operator error or a combination of the two, Haggard said.
The damage is unrelated to a problem Freedom suffered on its initial deployment to Singapore in 2013 in which two of the four Isotta Fraschini V1708 diesel electrical generators on Freedom overheated and shutdown.
Word of Freedom’s casualty comes as USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) is in transit to San Diego following a separate propulsion causality in which operator error caused extensive damage to the LCS’ combing gear – the complex mechanism that links the output of the ship’s main propulsion diesels and the gas turbines to the ship’s water jets.
The January casualty cut short the deployment of Fort Worth by several months and resulted in the relief of the ship’s captain. A similar combining gear casualty occurred on USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) late last year but was related to a software problem, not operator error.
Commander, Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden said more education maybe needed to prevent similar incidents in the future. He said findings of the recently completed LCS review board — tasked with evaluating how the Navy uses the ship class – would inform changes to how LCS are manned and crews are trained.
“Given the engineering casualties on USS Freedom and USS Fort Worth, I believe improvements in engineering oversight and training are necessary,” Rowden said in a statement.
“The recently completed LCS Review of manning, design, and training looked at a number of sailor performance and ownership factors, to include crew rotation, size and proficiency. From this work, I believe we will be able to make immediate changes to help reduce chance for future operator error. I am fully committed to ensuring that our ships and the sailors who man them have the proper tools and training they need to safely and effectively operate these ships.”
One naval analyst told USNI News on Sunday the casualty comes at a difficult time for the LCS program.
“Regardless of the cause, however, it comes at a sensitive time for the LCS program which still remains controversial both within the Navy and inside DoD,” Eric Wertheim, the author of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World, told USNI News on Sunday.
“Eight years since the first unit of the class entered service, proponents and opponents on each side are still trying to figure out what the future of the LCS fleet will hold, how many ships should be built, where they should operate, and what types of missions they can perform. With all those questions still up in the air, any issues that arise can have an outsized impact on the future of the program.”