Navy Littoral Ship sidelined in Singapore

USS Fort Worth

A U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship is sidelined in port in Singapore because of damage to gears that propel the vessel, according to a memo from the service, which blamed failure to use enough lubricating oil.

The USS Fort Worth built by Lockheed Martin Corp. had damage to combining gears that let the ship run on a mix of diesel and gas turbine engines, according to the memo obtained by Bloomberg News. “There is no estimated date of completion” to the repairs, it said.

The incident is the second in little more than a month involving the vessels, which cost on average about $440 million each, according to the Congressional Research Service. The Navy towed the USS Milwaukee more than 40 nautical miles to port in Virginia last month in the Atlantic after its gears failed on Dec. 11, according to the Navy Times. The Navy memo said the two incidents weren’t related.

Initial indications are that the gear damage in Singapore “appears to be caused by a failure to follow established procedures during maintenance,” according to the memo. “During startup of the main propulsion diesel engines, lube oil was not supplied to the ship’s combining gears.”

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The lack of oil “resulted in high-temperature alarms on the port and starboard combining gears,” it said. It said a maintenance crew of representatives from the company that made the gears and Navy personnel based in Yokosuka, Japan, is “on board to evaluate the gears and make the necessary repairs.”

Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight, a spokesman for the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, said the ship will remain in Singapore while it undergoes “a series of inspections to determine the extent of necessary repairs.” He said the ship’s crew was responsible for the failure to properly lubricate the gears.

The Fort Worth is on a 16-month deployment to Asia — a high-profile example of the Obama administration’s promised rebalance to Asia. The Navy wants to permanently base four littoral ships in Singapore. The service is also testing a new crew-rotation approach intended to allow for long deployments without exhausting sailors.

The latest incident is a setback for a vessel whose critics say is unreliable and not survivable in combat. The last two defense secretaries have cited shortcomings of the ship, built in separate versions by Lockheed and Austal Ltd., and both truncated plans for it. The latest effort came last month when Defense Secretary Ash Carter directed the Navy to reduce the program to 40 vessels from the program’s original 52.

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In a memo to Navy leaders, Carter wrote that the service “has overemphasized resources used to incrementally increase total ship numbers at the expense of critically needed investments in areas where our adversaries are not standing still, such as strike, ship survivability, electronic warfare and other capabilities.”

The episode in Singapore also may call into question the Navy’s maintenance plan for the ship, which is designed to have a minimal crew of about 50, compared with a crew of 200 on Navy frigates.

The Littoral Combat Ship, intended for operations in shallow coastal waters, will face a new round of criticism when the Pentagon operational test office publishes its next annual report later this month. In past assessments, the office has cited doubts about the ship’s reliability and vulnerability.