Navy Focusing On 32 LCS Reliability Issues

The head of Naval Surface Forces on Monday said a littoral combat ship (LCS) task force is focusing on 32 key reliability issues on both ship variants to better meet fleet requirements.

Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, commander of Naval Surface Forces, stood up an LCS task force in 2020 to analyze, develop and implement improvements to the LCS, which has been ridden with several delays and issues over the past years.

Kitchener said the task force is using experts from Naval Surface Forces, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Surface Warfare Division (N96), the Program Executive Office Unmanned and Small Combatants (PEO USC) LCS Strike Team, and the Navy Regional Maintenance Center to address four main “lines of operation” in reliability, sustainability, lethality and operational employment. 

During a press call, Kitchener said of these four areas, his team is focusing on reliability as the biggest factor in getting the LCSs most useful for the fleet. The Navy can get the best return on investment in improving the downtime the ships currently experience from unreliable parts in critical systems failing, he said. 

Moreover, Kitchener said the Navy is looking to narrow down to the most important of the 32 areas that make the biggest impact or return on investment, focus on funding and implementing those fixes on deployed ships in-theater, and then moving outward from there.

When asked how these 32 fixes compare to other new ship classes, Kitchener admitted the Navy has discovered more issues over time. This is especially noticeable in how the Navy is operating some technology like water jets that have success in the civilian world but the service had no experience operating on a warship.

Kitchener acknowledged the repeated problems with the Freedom-variant combining gear have been a barrier to operations while the Independence-variant has had fewer issues. Lockheed Martin [LMT] is the prime contractor for the Freedom LCS and Austal USA builds the Independence ships.

Earlier this year, the Navy stopped accepting delivery of the Lockheed Martin Freedom-variant LCSs due to a material defect with the combining gear on those ships until a design fix completes testing and is installed (Defense Daily, Jan. 22).

Kitchener appointed Rear Adm. Robert Nowakowski to lead Task Force LCS and provide data-based recommendations and solutions to improve each line of operation.

During the call, Nowakowski noted the 32 fixes are spread across both variants and if there was only one variant there could be fewer fixes required.

Kitchener also noted one issue is the Navy originally planned the littoral combat ship to have most maintenance work conducted by contractors and parts flown out to vessels in-theater, compared to the standard way of training sailors on some repair work and maintaining a larger storage of spare parts.

Last January, Kitchener said the Navy was finishing a 2020 follow-up to the 2016 LCS review and expected the services to release the study within the next month or so (Defense Daily, Jan. 13).

At the time, Kitchener said this was an iterative process from the 2016 review, looking if the Navy has the missions right, getting the presence wanted out of the ship, and maintaining the right sustainability and maintenance models.

On Monday, Kitchener said the previous 2016 study said the service should shift maintenance more toward a traditional sailor-centric model compared to the previous planned contractor-focused plan, especially since the ability of shipping parts to a deployed ship in times of conflict is an uncertain possibility. 

More recently, his review team is also looking to change the frequency of preventative maintenance, currently set for seven to 14 days every month, to possibly move to undergoing maintenance every two months and reducing the number of days required for some work. 

Kitchener was also asked how much more the Navy is willing to invest into these ships despite repeated problems and their limited utility thus far.

He said the service has found good uses for the ships with both the 7th Fleet and 4th Fleet finding uses for the ships. The 7th Fleet in particular has been a fan of using LCSs for littoral operations supporting the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations plans. Kitchener said he thinks the Navy can get a lot more utility out of the ships for not much more additional funds, both to improve reliability but also improve lethality and upgrade weapon systems further.

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