SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The U.S. Navy’s beleaguered littoral combat ship program took another hit Saturday when the USS Freedom was forced back to its base in Singapore for maintenance while participating in international exercises.
The Freedom “briefly” lost propulsion as it prepared for a vertical replenishment in support of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training Singapore 2013 exercises, Navy officials said Monday. The ship never lost complete power, however, and the crew was able to restore propulsion so the ship could complete the replenishment. There were no injuries and no damage to the ship.
The ship’s commander, Cmdr. Timothy Wilke, decided it was best to return to base to complete the maintenance, according to Task Force-73 spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Clay Doss. Initial assessments have identified exhaust leaks in turbochargers for the ship’s diesel generators that caused one generator to overheat and shut down. The Freedom also had problems load-shedding between online generators, the process of prioritizing and shutting down non-essential systems to maximize power.
“While it is general policy not to discuss specific maintenance timelines or operational schedules, technicians are working quickly to repair the problem,” Doss said. “We are confident that the right combination of technical assistance and logistics support are in theater now to address this issue.”
The Freedom had departed Changi Naval Base on Friday to participate in the at-sea phase of CARAT Singapore, which began Sunday and ends Thursday, when the issues occurred, Doss said. If the repairs can be accomplished soon, the Freedom may rejoin the exercise.
Doss downplayed the technical difficulties as growing pains for a first-in-class vessel and said some good may come from the issues.
“Despite challenges that are not uncommon for any U.S. Navy ship on deployment, let alone a first-of-class ship that has never deployed overseas before, the Freedom crew continues to perform well as they capture valuable lessons learned that will inform follow-on rotational deployments as well as the LCS program,” he said.
Mostly due to years of cost overruns and structural deficiencies that included hull cracks, corrosion and system failures, the LCS program has been under intense scrutiny since shortly after it was launched in 2002 to replace the Navy’s aging fleet of Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, Avenger-class mine countermeasure ships and Osprey-class coastal mine hunters.
In March, Vice Adm. Tom Copeman was quoted in media reports criticizing the $440 million ships for lacking firepower. Two weeks later, a fire was reported aboard the LCS Coronado during sea trials.
The Freedom arrived in Singapore in April for its maiden overseas deployment. It was scheduled to participate in exercises, visit foreign ports, conduct maritime security operations and allow the LCS Council — a working group established in August by chief of naval operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert — to evaluate crew rotation, maintenance plans and the program as a whole.
Littoral combat ships were designed to be fast, with a shallow draft, so they can operate where bigger ships cannot, Navy officials have said. They can be fitted with interchangeable mission packages such as surface warfare, minesweeping and anti-submarine warfare.
The Freedom was fitted with a surface-warfare mission package and maritime-security module. It has a complement of 91 sailors on board, including mission package personnel and an aviation detachment to operate an embarked MH-60 helicopter.
By the end of 2021, the Navy expects to have 24 littoral ships under contract, with 16 assigned to the Pacific Fleet.