The crew embarked on the forward-deployed littoral combat ship Coronado is stuck in Singapore for the holidays and it's not clear when they'll get home.
The deployment of the 70 sailors of Crew 204 plus its embarked air wing has been extended indefinitely because of the Navy's overhaul of the LCS manning structure launched earlier this year.
The ship and its crew deployed in June from San Diego en route to Hawaii and the semiannual Rim of the Pacific Exercise, followed by a transit to Singapore. The initial plan was for a six-month deployment and for the crew to rotate back to the states for the holidays. But that's not happening, according to a Navy official familiar with the crew's plight.
"They were originally told they'd be back around Thanksgiving, then it was Christmas," said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue.
"Now they are being told it might be April or May, but the truth is nobody seems to know when they'll be relieved."
Navy officials say the recent spate of LCS engineering problems, including breakdowns on the Freedom and the Fort Worth caused by crew errors, has triggered a complete reorganization of the program and Crew 204's open-ended deployment is collateral damage.
Under the original crewing plan for the LCS fleet, three crews of about 50 sailors each rotated between two ships, which meant sailors would spend four-to-six months deployed on the ship, about six in pre-deployment workups and six months off hull used for training and leave. Much of the training and certification was supposed to be done in a simulator to free up ships for tasking. All this was meant to keep the LCS forward-deployed and underway for as much time as possible.
But the high-profile crew failures on Freedom and Fort Worth, in which crew members caused breakdowns, shook the confidence of senior Navy leaders, including top surface warfare officer Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden. They changed both the structure of the program and the training pipeline for qualifying deploying LCS crews. Crew 204’s relief won’t be dispatched until it’s trained up to new standards, which include underway training periods.
The Coronado is a trimaran version of the LCS and the systems on it are different from the monohull version and so deploying crews have to get underway on the trimaran version before certifying. Recently that’s been a problem because the schedules and yards periods have limited underway availabilities.
Ultimately Crew 204 will be relieved by Crew 203, which is in its off-hull training cycle. But the change will come only after leaders are satisfied that the 203 is ready to take over Coronado, according to Cmdr. John Perkins, a spokesman for Naval Surface Force Pacific, which is in charge of training and equipping the surface Navy.
"Based on recent investigations into engineering casualties on board USS Freedom and USS Fort Worth attributed to insufficient turnover time and on-hull training opportunities, Naval Surface Forces directed that crews will receive on-hull training opportunities as part of the certification process," Perkins said.
That should happen by early next year, he said.
Crew 204 is caught in the middle of a complete reorganization and overhaul of the LCS program that dispenses with the three crews, two hulls model all together and moves to a blue-and-gold crew model, where two crews share one hull. That's a model similar to that used for Navy submarines.
The change was put into place after a 60-day review of the program ordered by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson after the LCS’s engineering troubles began surfacing.
Coronado is slated to shift to the blue-and-gold construct while on deployment and Crew 203 is going to be the other crew. That shift, along with getting Crew 203 up to speed on the new training standards put into place after the review, was causing the delay, Perkins acknowledged in an email.
"As part of the recent LCS 60-Day Review, the Navy is improving the manning to a blue/gold plus construct in order to provide stability, simplicity, and ownership to the crews," he wrote. "Additionally, training constructs have been revised to ensure crews deploy with confidence by providing both off-hull simulator and on-hull underway opportunities to fully certify crews prior to deployment.
"The current crew will be relieved upon full certification of the oncoming crew," he said.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.