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LCS Freedom suffers propulsion loss at sea

Jul. 22, 2013 - 09:17PM   |  
Freedom gets underway from Changi Naval Base, Singapore, on July 19. The ship suffered a temporary propulsion loss the next day while at sea and returned to port for repairs.
Freedom gets underway from Changi Naval Base, Singapore, on July 19. The ship suffered a temporary propulsion loss the next day while at sea and returned to port for repairs. (MC1 Jay C. Pugh / Navy)
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Engineman 1st Class Jose Scull (front) and Engineman 1st Class Robert Carter work in close spaces July 20 aboard the Freedom to check out a ship's service diesel generator. (MC1 Cassandra Thompson / Navy)

WASHINGTON — The littoral combat ship (LCS) Freedom suffered a temporary loss of propulsive power Saturday while operating near Singapore, the Navy reported, but the ship never lost all power.

The Freedom’s crew was able to diagnose the problems, restart the engines and continue operating, but was forced to return to Singapore for repairs and further examinations — but not before completing the replenishment operation.

The ship is operating from Singapore throughout this year on a highly anticipated — and closely watched — demonstration deployment, the first extended overseas deployment for an LCS. The Freedom left its homeport of San Diego, Calif., on March 1 and arrived at the island nation’s Changi naval base on April 18. It was preparing to take part in a series of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises with the Singaporean Navy when the incident took place on the morning of July 20.

(Dates quoted in this story are based on local Singapore time, which is 12 hours ahead of Washington, D.C., time.)

According to a statement from Lt. Cmdr. Clay Doss, a spokesman for the Navy in Singapore, the Freedom was underway in the South China Sea preparing to conduct a helicopter vertical replenishment operation with the support ship Cesar Chavez when the propulsion system shut down.

The initial problem was traced to turbocharger exhaust leaks on the No. 2 ship service diesel generator (SSDG), one of four generators that supply the ship with electrical power. Further examination after the power loss found similar problems on the No. 3 generator.

Problems with load shedding, or reducing electrical power to avoid overloading the generators, also were found, Doss said in the statement.

After a brief period of single generator operations, the crew brought more generators online and then brought the engines back online, restoring propulsion.

The power loss, Doss said, was “in minutes rather than in hours.”

The ship experienced similar power-loss issues while crossing the Pacific in the spring. The new problems are “related to some of the power losses that were reported on the transit in March, but the symptoms are different,” Doss said. “Anything beyond that would be speculation.”

It is not yet clear whether the Freedom will be underway again to take part in the Singapore portion of the CARAT exercises.

“While it is general policy not to discuss specific maintenance timelines or operational schedules, technicians are working quickly to repair the problem,” Doss said in the statement. “If repairs are accomplished soon, Freedom will return to sea … to participate in the sea phase of CARAT Singapore.”

The Freedom is the first of 52 LCSs the Navy plans to buy and is the first ship of the Lockheed Martin variant.

The second LCS, Independence, built to an entirely different design from General Dynamics and Austal USA, also lost power briefly in San Diego Bay on June 21, but power was restored and the ship returned to base.

It is not clear whether causes of the power losses on each of the LCS types are related.

While both designs are powered by gas turbines and diesels in a combined arrangement, and have diesel ships-service generators, the plants use different manufacturers and have different plant layouts.

The latest incident comes at an awkward time for the much-criticized LCS program. A new report likely to renew long-standing criticisms of the program is expected this week from the Government Accountability Office, and the House Seapower subcommittee has scheduled a July 25 hearing on the program.

The Freedom is expected to continue operating in the western Pacific until returning to San Diego late in the year.

Below is the full statement released Sunday night Washington time, Monday morning Singapore time by the Navy’s Logistics Group Western Pacific command in Singapore:

“Freedom departed Changi Naval Base July 19 to participate in the at-sea phase of CARAT Singapore, which begins July 21 and continues through July 25. The ship lost propulsion briefly July 20 while making preparations for a vertical replenishment in support of CARAT Singapore. Freedom never lost power, the crew restored propulsion, and the ship completed the vertical replenishment.

“Initial assessment on the loss of propulsion is that the NR2 Ship Service Diesel Generator (SSDG) overheated and shut down. The crew determined turbochargers in NR2 and NR3 SSDGs had exhaust leaks and needed to be replaced. Turbochargers increase SSDG efficiency and power by forcing more air into the combustion chamber. Freedom also experienced problems load shedding between online generators that will require further troubleshooting by maintenance technicians in Singapore.

“Freedom’s commanding officer [Cmdr. Timothy Wilke of the Gold Crew] decided to return to port to accomplish repairs with available spare parts, and to allow the crew and maintenance technicians to continue troubleshooting the electrical plant as required.

“While it is general policy not to discuss specific maintenance timelines or operational schedules, technicians are working quickly to repair the problem. If repairs are accomplished soon, Freedom will return to sea and join other U.S. Navy units in Combined Task Group 73.1 along with Republic of Singapore Navy ships to participate in the sea phase of CARAT Singapore.

“The Navy deployed Freedom to Southeast Asia to work with regional navies and to put the ship through its paces in littoral waters several thousand miles away from homeport in San Diego. 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.

“Located in Singapore, the Navy’s Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific (CLWP) has extensive experience providing maintenance and logistics support to 7th Fleet units deployed in South and Southeast Asia. As Freedom is a first-of-class ship on a maiden deployment to Southeast Asia, the Navy expected supporting an LCS would require flexible and innovative approaches. We are confident that the right combination of technical assistance and logistics support are in theater now to address this issue.”

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