The Navy’s Sioux City Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) demonstrated several important operational and maintenance capabilities during a recently completed five-month deployment that included the first operations with the service’s Fifth and Sixth Fleets.
One of the successes for the 11th Freedom-class LCS was the fact it had no issues despite operating under restrictions on the use of the combining gear on the vessel, limiting the top-end speed of the ship, Cmdr. Scott Whitworth, the commanding officer of Sioux City Blue Crew, said during a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday.
The advertised speed of the LCS is more than 40 knots but the Sioux City was still able to top 30 knots with the combining gear restriction, Whitworth said.
“We were able to steam over 28,000 nautical miles and we had no issues with our combining gear during the during the entire deployment,” Whitworth said. “So, the procedures that we’ve put in place have definitely worked. And I’m looking forward to once the ship goes into the combining gear mod that we’re not going to be restricted to our speed.”
The combining gear issue is limited to the Freedom-class LCS, which are supplied Lockheed Martin [LMT] and its partner Fincantieri.
The Sioux City was supposed to operate with the Fifth and Sixth Fleets two years ago but the combining gear issue forced a delay until the Navy could sort out work arounds.
“Initially, we said we weren’t going to deploy the ships, but as we went through and worked through the experience, we found that we could definitely mitigate…that challenge and deploy the ship successfully and Sioux City proved that that was the case,” Capt. David Miller, commodore for LCS Squadron 2, said during the roundtable. “So, from my perspective, over all these ships, we’ve really put that problem behind us.”
The Freedom variants are the odd numbered LCS hulls. The even numbered hulls, which are the Independence-class, are built by a team of General Dynamics [GD] and Austal.
The Navy plans to modify the combining gear on the odd numbered-hulls five through 19 during post-delivery maintenance availabilities. LCS 19, the St. Louis, which was commissioned in 2020, has completed the modification and will be in service soon, Miller said.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul (LCS 21), which was commissioned in May, has the repaired combining gear, and the follow-on ships, LCS 23 through 31, will be delivered with the modifications, he said.
Another feature of Sioux City’s deployment were several planned preventive maintenance availabilities (PMAVs), first at Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, Greece in May, followed by a PMAV at a Navy support activity in Bahrain in June, and then again in Fredericia, Denmark in August, marking the first LCS PMAV in the Baltic Sea region.
The maintenance of the LCS originally was all contracted but the Navy is moving toward taking on a greater share of that and the recent PMAVs included a blend of active duty and reserve sailors and contractors that demonstrated success in this evolution, the officers said.
The Navy’s maintenance execution teams (METs) completed all their assigned work packages as did the contractors during the deployment, Whitworth said.
“I do see the MET taking on more of the contracting role as they get more PMAVs underneath their belt,” he said.
The Sioux City embarked from its homeport in Mayport, Fla., with its surface warfare package that included 30 mm guns and an 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boat, Whitworth said. Once helicopter training was finished, an SH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter joined the ship and then in theater an explosive ordnance disposal expeditionary mine counter measures (MCM) package was added as well, he said.
The MCM package consists of remotely operated unmanned underwater vessels for minesweeping. The UUVs were not deployed but were used to test the on-load procedures at the port in Bahrain.
“And the module concept went very, very smoothly,” Whitworth said. “I was very impressed with how we were able to move that around different theatres. Get it on board. Get it secured. Have the operators of the expeditionary MCM module linking in with the ship and then able to get it escorted through to choke points.”
Whitworth praised the sailors under his command for the success of the deployment and added that the tactics, procedures and lessons learned are “going to benefit every LCS that deploys in the future.”