Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday and acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker praised the perennially problematic littoral combat ship during congressional testimony Thursday.

“We’re very bullish on LCS and where we’re headed,” Gilday said of the vessels, which have overrun budgets and failed to perform their promised missions for nearly 20 years.

Gilday praised the work of the ships in recent missions in the west Pacific and in U.S. Southern Command, where a ship is now helping out with counter-narcotics missions.

He also said the LCS fleet will be getting beefed up in the next 18 months, as 31 of the ships will be outfitted with missile systems, while 15 will receive an anti-submarine capability and another approximately 15 ships will receive an anti-mine capability.

Still, Gilday called issues with the combining gear of the Freedom-class variants, which has forced the sea service to halt further acceptance of new ships, a “big problem.”

Gilday told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee Thursday that the Navy is forcing the vendor who made the combining gear to go back to the drawing board for a new design and testing.

“We’ve got to get the reliability piece resolved,” he said.

The combining gear is a complex mechanism for transmitting power generated by the ship’s engines to its waterjet propulsion system.

LCS combining gear casualties date back to at least late 2015, when the Milwaukee broke down on its maiden voyage to its homeport in Mayport, Florida, and had to be towed to Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The LCS Fort Worth suffered a casualty to the combining gear in port in early 2016 when sailors accidentally ran the system without lube oil running through it.

Those early issues, however, are likely not the same as the clutch bearing failures that prompted the Navy to halt deliveries, Defense News, a sister publication, reported.

More recently in early 2020, the LCS Little Rock suffered a breakdown of its combining gear, which was followed in October by the casualty to LCS Detroit, which was forced to try to hobble back to its Mayport, Florida, port from a deployment to Latin America.

But a power failure en route forced the Navy to have to tow the stricken Detroit home.

Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at

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