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Top US Lawmakers Say Billion-Dollar Ship Needs Serious Repairs

© AP Photo / Lockheed-Martin via U.S. Navy, FileThis July 28, 2008 file photo shows USS Freedom, the first ship in the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class.
This July 28, 2008 file photo shows USS Freedom, the first ship in the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class. - Sputnik International
Two of the Senate’s most powerful policymakers are threatening to pull their support for future Navy procurements unless the service makes drastic upgrades to the the $29 billion Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.

Senators Jack Reed, (D-RI), ranking Democrat and chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), along with John McCain (R-AZ), also of the SASC, wrote to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson on September 15 saying, "Until these actions are taken, we will have significant concerns about supporting the procurement of additional LCSs." 

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It isn’t clear whether the Senators meant withdrawing support from successor "frigates" or the ship program itself. Senate and House committees have approved two procurements for the 2017 fiscal year and there are plans in place for 12 LCS vessels or frigates to be purchased between 2018-2025.

The vessel, designed to maneuver through shallow coastal waters, has been constructed in two versions, one by Austal, and the other by Lockheed Martin. Questions have arisen over the craft’s reliability and whether it can withstand the wear of combat. This month marks the fifth significant maintenance issue for the ship in less than a year’s time.

"The first casualty happened when the crew detected a seawater leak in the hydraulic cooling system. Later that day, [Littoral Combat Ship USS] Montgomery experienced a casualty to one of its gas turbine engines," reads a Navy statement released last week, "The built-in redundancy of the ship’s propulsion plant allows these ships to operate with multiple engine configurations. However, with the two casualties resulting in the loss of both port shafts, it was determined that the best course of action would be to send the ship to Mayport to conduct both repairs." 

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These issues came just three days after the Montgomery underwent a commissioning ceremony in Mobile, Alabama. The ship had to forgo its trip to San Diego and was rerouted to Florida. The Montgomery is the third littoral ship in three weeks to have major engine problems.

After several years of official reviews noting failures in the propulsion systems and raising questions about basic functions, the Navy announced in early September that it would amend its methodology for crew rotation and training. Equipment modules and mission swapping will receive less attention as well, though they were originally considered a key attribute of the ships.

Naval Surface Force Commander Vice Adm. Tom Rowden stated that "Implementing the approved recommendations from this review and continuing to examine other areas for improvement will better position the LCS program for success — both now and in the future." 

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The Senators wrote, "We applaud your initiative in attempting to correct major deficiencies," while urging the service to make additional "long overdue actions." Reed and McCain also claimed that the purchase of the craft shows how the service ”deviated from many aspects of a normal acquisition program, including deploying the ship before any significant testing had been conducted."

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