Navy orders stand-down of littoral combat ships after breakdowns

USS_Coronado_(LCS-4)_underway_in_April_2014

The littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) underway in the Pacific Ocean | US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Keith DeVinney

After the littoral combat ship USS Freedom sustained major engine damage July 11 because a seal malfunction allowed seawater to seep in, the commander of Naval Surface Forces quietly ordered all LCS crews to observe a stand-down, halting operations to review procedures and engineering standards.

“Due to the ongoing challenges with littoral combat ships, I ordered an engineering stand-down for LCS squadrons and the crews that fall under their command,” Vice Adm. Tom Rowden said in a statement. “These stands down allowed for time to review, evaluate and renew our commitment to ensuring our crews are fully prepared to operate these ships safely.”

The reviews were completed by Aug. 31, Navy officials announced Monday, adding that every sailor in each LCS crew with a role in engineering will observe retraining.

The training, officials said, will take place over the next 30 days. During that time, leadership of the Navy’s Surface Warfare Officer’s School in Newport, Rhode Island, will review the current LCS training program and recommend any other changes they see fit.

The school’s engineers will also supervise current and future training efforts. They will develop a knowledge test and specialized training for LCS engineers, to be deployed to them by Oct. 5. A separate, comprehensive LCS engineering review is being conducted by the commander of SWOS, Capt. David A. Welch, and is expected to take between 30 and 60 days.

“From there, more adjustments may be made to the engineering training pipeline,” officials with Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a statement.

The Freedom, the first of its class made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Marinette Marine, returned to its San Diego homeport Aug. 3 to address the damage it sustained to one of its diesel propulsion engines, which Navy officials said will require an engine rebuild or replacement.

It remains unclear what caused another LCS, the USS Coronado, to be sidelined with damage to one of its flexible couplings assemblies Aug. 29.

Upon its return to Pearl Harbor Sept. 4, the Coronado was met by a group of maintenance experts sent by Rowden to inspect the ship, officials said. The experts investigated the ship’s engineering program, but no information has been released about the cause of the problem or whether it might be related to previous engineering casualties.

“A preliminary investigation will provide an initial assessment and procedural review of the situation, and any shortfalls will be addressed quickly to get the ship fixed and back on deployment,” officials said.

The Coronado, so far the only trimaran-hulled Independence-variant LCS made by Austal USA to suffer an engineering casualty, had been just two months into its maiden deployment.

The Freedom and the Coronado are the third and fourth littoral combat ships to experience engineering casualties inside a 12-month span.

Last December, the LCS Milwaukee broke down during a transit from San Diego and Halifax, Nova Scotia when a clutch failed to disengage when the ship switched gears. The ship had to cut short the transit in order to be towed to Joint Base Little Creek, Virginia, for repairs.

In January, the LCS Fort Worth was sidelined in Singapore when it broke down in what officials said was a casualty caused by engineers failing to properly apply lubrication oil to the ship’s combining gears. After eight months in port in Singapore for repairs, the Fort Worth departed for its San Diego homeport in August.