Weeks may be needed to repair LCS Milwaukee after breakdown
By David B. Larter
The sun sets over Virginia Beach as USNS Grapple tows USS Milwaukee towards Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, Va. on Friday, December 11, 2015.
A week after the Navy's brand new littoral combat ship Milwaukee broke down at sea, naval engineers and experts are still trying to determine why metal debris fouled the ship's were still trying to determine what caused metallic debris to build up in key components of the propulsion system.
Engineers are pulling apart a system called the combining gear, which allows the ship to use power from its diesel and big gas turbine engines for propulsion, to determine where the flakes of metal came from, according to Navy officials familiar with the repairs.
The repairs to Milwaukee are likely to take weeks, officials said, because identifying these kinds of problems of this nature require flushing out the systems and taking them apart. and a lot of disassembly.
The crew took the right actions when the debris was discovered by in the wake of the engineering casualty, shutting down the propulsion system to limit further damages and calling for a tow, the Surface Navy's top officer said.Rowden told Navy Times in a Dec. 17 interview that . Rowden praised the crew for taking caution to preserve the ship.
"We've got to take care of our people and we've got to take care of our ships," said Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, head of Naval Surface Force Pacific, said in a Dec. 17 phone interview.
In the days following the Dec. 10 breakdown off the Virginia coast, speculation arose that a shipyard mishap was to blame for the debris, after the engines were run without lube oil. But engineers believe that's likely not the cause, according to two sources. accident over the summer where contractors started the engines without lube oil running through it was to blame for the debris, but two sources say that engineers at the scene say likely not the source.
The ship was commissioned Nov. 21 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after being built in Marinette. The mono-hull version of the LCS is a Lockheed Martin design. Lockheed declined to comment on the breakdown or what their engineers think caused it, directing questions to the Navy.
Milwaukee broke down Dec. 11 and had to be towed more than 40 nautical miles to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia.
The ship suffered the engineering breakdown an engineering casualty while transiting from Halifax, Canada, to Mayport, Florida, and ultimately its home port of San Diego.
In The ship was on its way to Mayport, Florida, the ship where it was scheduled for a yards period and was going to be temporarily used as a training ship for the new Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 2 based there before making its way to Milwaukee's home port in San Diego.
Problems with the propulsion plant began almost as soon as Milwaukee got underway from Halifax. The ship's computer system triggered an alarm and the ship called away an engineering casualty.
Engineers cleaned out the metal filings from the lube oil filter and locked the port shaft as a precaution. In the early hours of Dec. 11, the ship was conducting steering tests and lost lube oil pressure in the starboard combining gear due to the presence of the same metal filings in that filter.
The metal filings in the lube oil have not been a class-wide issue, according to the Navy.
The ship then dropped anchor while the engineers troubleshot worked on the system. By mid-morning, the salvage ship Grapple rendezvoused with Milwaukee and towed it into connected a towing hawser line for the trip back to Little Creek for its unceremonious arrival there.
Crew 104 manned the ship for the transit to Norfolk, where Crew 108 took over. The ship is currently manned by Crew 104, and was scheduled to swap with Crew 108 in Mayport, but swapped instead in Virginia while the ship was repaired.
News of the breakdown concerned the influential chairman of the caused great consternation on Capitol Hill, prompting LCS critic Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who called for transparency. to call for accountability.
"Reporting of a complete loss of propulsion on USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) is deeply alarming, particularly given this ship was commissioned just 20 days ago," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said in a statement. "U.S. Navy ships are built with redundant systems to enable continued operation in the event of an engineering casualty, which makes this incident very concerning."
"I expect the Navy to conduct a thorough investigation into the root causes of this failure, hold individuals accountable as appropriate, and keep the Senate Armed Services Committee informed."
Milwaukee's breakdown kicked off a terrible week for the LCS program. Less than a week after the breakdown, news emerged that the Pentagon is ordering the Navy to a memo obtained by Navy Times' sister publication Defense News from Defense Secretary Ash Carter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus directed the Navy to cut the total buy of LCS and the new up-gunned frigate version to 40 from 52, and to pick between the mono-hull version and the trimaran version built by Austal USA in Alabama.
Instead of the ships, the Pentagon directed the Navy to Carter directed Mabus to invest in more F-35Cs, Virginia Payload Modules and missiles.
About David B. Larter
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.