13 May 2012

And the LCS is Beginning to Look Like a Real Dog

Serikously, the most recent list of problems with the ships makes one wonder if they will ever be combat ready:
The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-1) USS Freedom is plagued by extensive corrosion and manufacturing issues more recent and serious than anything the Pentagon or prime contractor Lockheed Martin has publicly acknowledged thus far.

This is based on a guided tour of the ship in dry dock, as well as sources intimately familiar with Freedom’s design, repairs and operations, U.S. Navy documents and defense analysts.

The vessel is rusting and blistered by corrosion in many areas, marred by crack repairs throughout the deckhouse and hampered by what appear to be flaws in vital piping systems.

Corrosion is particularly evident throughout the ship’s waterborne mission area, located at the Freedom’s stern, because of a large gap between the stern doors and the vessel’s deck floor, which allows water to pour in when the doors are closed. They are supposed to form a watertight seal (see photo.)

As part of its plan to address some of the Freedom’s problems, the Navy is apparently adding more sailors – a move that runs counter to the ship’s basic concept of operations, which are meant, among other things, to reduce weight and costs by deploying a ship with as few crewmembers as possible.

The vessel – the first ship of what is supposed to be the future cornerstone of U.S. surface naval power – left dry dock at the end of April for tests off the California coast. Equipment failures had cut short previous test attempts in January and February. The Freedom had been at sea 15-20 days in the 16 months before leaving pier side for the recent tests and underway 12 hr. since June 27, 2011, when it docked for recent repairs.
This is further complicated by the fact that the one of the Navy's goals on this ship was to completely minimize crewing, which means that there is little, if any capability to fix problems as they develop:
But some members of Congress see it differently. “Making sure the stern door seals shut is shipbuilding 101,” says U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “I’m troubled that the Navy would accept so many deficiencies in a program that seems to be riddled with serious problems,” Speier said after Aviation Week shared with her staff photographs and other material gathered from the ship tour.

Navy officials and program supporters say some of the problems are due to first-of-class growing pains and the learning curve achieved by getting to know the maintenance needs of a ship that until about a decade ago was little more than a concept.

LCS is meant to be maintained differently from other Navy vessels. “Crews do minimal maintenance on board,” Capt. John Neagley, the acting LCS program manager, said during a briefing at the Navy League’s recent annual Sea Air Space conference.

And the ship’s current concept of operations, or conops, reinforces that idea. “The crew has no surplus capacity to absorb additional duties,” reads the conops, last revised in 2009. “There are no spare sailors or officers assigned to LCS.”

To further address some of the corrosion problems on both the Freedom – developed and built by a team lead by Lockheed – and the LCS-2 USS Independence – developed and built by a team lead by General Dynamics and Austal USA – the Navy has put in additional cathodic protection systems, which protect metal surfaces by making them cathodes of an electrochemical cell.
BTW, there are reports that Austal, which uses cathodic systems on its civilian high speed ferries, suggested putting in such a system for their LCS, but the Navy shot it down. (Smooth move, USN)

I don't think that the Navy's fetish of cutting crewing is producing a viable platform.


DJ said...

Speaking from experience, anyone who thinks a "watertight" door will keep the metal dry has never been to sea. I question the actual composition/specification of the alloys, and especially question the effectiveness of the new coatings to provide an effective barrier.

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