Littoral Combat Ship’s Hull Cracked Open After Collision With Tugboat

Is the LCS program cursed?

byTyler Rogoway|
U.S. Navy photo

The Littoral Combat Ship program is highly controversial, and rightfully so. Not only is there a good case that it is the wrong ship at the wrong time for the US Navy, but it has failed consistently to live up to its intended purpose and operational concept. Not only that, but the LCS program is built in two classes and by two shipyards. But beyond the systemic issues the still relatively tiny LCS fleet has experienced a rash of costly breakdowns and mechanical issues in recent months, leaving the vessels broken at the dock. Now there is news that USS Montgomery (LCS-8) has suffered a crack through its hull after collision with a tug while trying to escape Hurricane Matthew on Tuesday.

The mishap resulted in a crack along a welding seam near the center of the ship. It also bent five of the horizontal stringers comprise the ship’s structural skeleton. Once the Montgomery’s crew found the fissure, which was resulting in seawater entering the ship, they plugged it the best they could. The ship did not return to port in Mayport, Florida, and under the atmospheric circumstances that makes sense.

Navy Times reports that the US Navy’s official response to their inquiry stated:

"USS Montgomery (LCS 8) sustained a crack to its hull while getting underway from Naval Station Mayport under orders to sortie Oct. 4. This crack resulted in minor seawater intrusion, but was contained by the crew. An investigation into possible causes is underway, and the ship will receive more permanent repairs upon her return to port.”

Montgomery was commissioned less than a month ago but has had a very rough start of its active Navy service. Just three days after its commissioning, on September 13th, the ship suffered from two totally separate mechanical failures. The first issue started when the ship’s engineering team detected a seawater leak in its hydraulic cooling system. Then one of the ship’s gas turbine engines failed. The ship was diverted to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before heading to Mayport, Florida for repairs. Montgomery was originally on its way to its new homeport in San Diego when the mechanical issues arose, a trip it has still been unable to execute.

USS Montgomery seen during her commissioning in Mobile, AL on September 10th., AP

USS Montgomery is not the only LCS that has had major mechanical issues as of late. Far from it actually. A string of engineering problems has plagued the embattled program. USNI News recaps the incidents that have occurred prior to USS Montgomery’s commissioning:

“In late August, Independence-class LCS USS Coronado (LCS-4) suffered a casualty in route from Pearl Harbor to Singapore for a planned deployment. Days earlier, the Navy confirmed USS Freedom (LCS-1) would have to have a main propulsion diesel engine replaced after seawater flooded the lube oil system. In January, operator error caused a complex gearing system in Freedom-class LCS USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) to suffer extensive damage which resulted in the removal of the ship’s commander. The year before a software problem in USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) caused a similar casualty in its gearing system.”

The program has already undergone deep revisions. This included a decision to up-arm the ships with more armor and weaponry (and weight!), while another focused on cutting back their production numbers and forcing an eventual down-select to just one class instead of two.

Then just recently, after the spate of issues described above, the Navy ordered further revisions. These included changes to manning levels and training training requirements, as well as organizational decisions as to how these ships would operate and where. Also a fleet-wide engineering stand-down was ordered. This is similar to the grounding of particular aircraft type following an incident or series of incidents to deeply revue the program’s procedures, training and other elements.

It's been a rough year for a program that has seen lot of rough years in its relatively short existence. Even some the program’s supposed wins that the Navy is so proud to tout have been eyebrow raising.

The LCS is a failed concept. It does not, and will not, do what it was designed to do in the manner in which it was intended. Both classes of ships have been in the water for many years now and yet they're no more reliable while their mission and justification for existence has become increasingly ambiguous. Despite calls from the most powerful people in Washington to let the program go, and calls for the Navy to just build a proper frigate in its place, the Navy seems dead-set on keeping the failing program alive. Even if the ships entering service only have a visual resemblance to the flexible, reliable, cheap, minimally crewed, brown water multi-mission jet boat concept as it was originally sold.

The Littoral Combat Ship is literally a mess.

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