The Navy has completed and tested the first fix for the complicated gearing system that has plagued the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told reporters on Wednesday.
In January, the Navy announced it would not take deliveries of the Lockheed Martin-built Freedom-class LCS until the class-wide issue with the under-engineered combining gear from German manufacturer RENK AG was repaired. The gear links the ships’ diesel engines and gas turbines. The determination followed two high-profile propulsion failures in USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Little Rock (LCS-9). In total, 13 ships required the repair to the gears.
“We held industry’s feet to the fire … We stopped delivery of these ships until we got this right. Reliability of LCS is our number one priority with respect to that ship class,” Gilday said.
“We really forced industry to go back to the drawing board with respect to the fidelity of the engineering work to do significant and rigorous shore side testing before we approve that final design that actually just got installed in the first ship.”
Navy officials said in August that Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21) had completed the initial repair of the combining gear in Escanaba. Mich., near Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Wisconsin.
“It’s a very complex fix to replace the bearings on the combining gear. It’s a very tight space. There’s a lot of interferences that have to be removed,” LCS deputy program manager Howard Berkof said in August.
The key to the 40-knot top speed of the Freedom class is the gearing system that combines the output of the ship’s Rolls Royce MT-30 gas turbines and its diesel engines. Without the gearing system operating as designed, the Freedom-class ships in commission can only operate on one type of engine at a much lower speed.
With Minneapolis-Saint Paul cleared to deliver to the Navy, Lockheed and RENK AG will continue to repair the ships under construction at Marinette Marine – Cooperstown (LCS-23), Marinette (LCS-25), Nantucket (LCS-27) and Beloit (LCS-29). The final Freedom-class ship, Cleveland (LCS-31), will be outfitted with a fully corrected combining gear, the Navy has said.
It’s unclear how the Navy will feather in the fix to the eight Freedom-class LCS with the RENK combining gear already in commission. The decommissioned Freedom (LCS-1) and USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) were designed with a different gearing mechanism built by U.S. company Philadelphia Gear.
Moving ahead, Gilday said the Freedom-class ships would move beyond their current missions in U.S. Southern Command to the Middle East and the Western Pacific.
“Our intent is to scale the LCS around the globe and to get as much as we can out of that platform,” he said. “We’re back fitting those ships with some significant weapon systems.”
Gilday said LCS were in use as part of the Global 14 exercise series currently underway at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.
“They definitely played in a positive way in the game. I will say that LCS was designed to operate in shallower waters around archipelagos,” he said. “And that’s exactly how they played in the game and we found them very useful.”