LCS trials may resume next week, sources say

(MILITARY TIMES)   Sea trials of the first Littoral Combat Ship from General Dynamics could resume as early as next week, sources said, giving shipbuilders and their Navy customers a chance to see if numerous engineering fixes implemented since the summer have taken hold.

The littoral combat ship Independence (LCS 2) is shown July 12 underway during builders trials.

The littoral combat ship Independence (LCS 2) is shown July 12 underway during builder's trials.

The ship, named Independence, went out for an initial series of builder’s trials in early July, but except for a handful of day trips, it has been pierside since then at Austal USA’s shipyard in Mobile, Ala. A series of problems, many of them associated with the propulsion plant, cropped up during the trials, and officials decided to take the ship out of trials mode and work on getting things finished.

“Every time you go to sea, it’s a disruption to your production,” Rear Adm. Bill Landay, the Navy’s program executive officer for ships, explained Oct. 7 to reporters.

“We were going to sea, we were coming back, we were working on issues a couple days, we were going to sea, we were working on issues. We were making progress, but we also were, quite frankly, impacting our production, because there were a lot of other things we still needed to do,” Landay said. “So we made a conscious decision at one point that said we know enough, and there are some things we need to go work, let’s go put the ship back into production for two, three, four weeks to make progress on all the production stuff that we want to do before we go back to sea again.”

While Landay acknowledged the three-month delay in continuing trials has been frustrating, he observed that “you go on builder’s trials because you’ve got to exercise the ship, and you’re going to find stuff.”

One of the basic tests in sea trials is a full-power run to take the ship up to its top speed. The Independence is expected to better the 44 knots it made on its initial speed run in July — a run that was cut short when engine problems developed.

Landay — speaking carefully because the ship remains in private hands and won’t be Navy property until the service formally accepts it — didn’t provide details of the engine problems, but he did describe the situation.

“There have been a number of related things, some engine issues that we’ve had to go work — nothing catastrophic, but we’ve had to go in and work those. Then, as you go down the propulsion train, there have been a couple of other things we’ve done.”

Referring to the trials in early July, Landay explained that, “we had, the last time we were out, an engine casualty while we were going at full power which caused us to stop that, and we had to go fix that casualty. But it’s not necessarily ‘the engine’ from our evaluation that’s preventing us from doing it, it’s a number of issues. It’s some cavitation issues. It’s some vibration issues, some temperature issues on different components.

“So you’ve got to go down each one and work through those,” he said. “It’s not one single thing — if it was, it would be easy because we would have fixed it by now.

“So we fixed the issue we think we had,” Landay said. “There’s nothing left that we’re aware of that should prevent us from making full power. But we’re just going to go out and see it. We’re pretty close.”

The power plant of the LCS is a combination of diesel engines for cruising and gas turbines to provide the boost for top speed. General Dynamics’ propulsion design features two General Electric LM2500 gas turbines and two MTU Detroit Diesel 20V 8000 M71 diesels.

Most of the Navy’s current surface vessels are powered by LM2500 gas turbines, and the MTU 8000s, described by Austal as “the highest-power high-speed diesel engine available in the world,” are used in several other ship designs, including commercial ferries similar to the basic LCS design.

Several sources acknowledged problems with the MTU diesels on the initial sea trials, but those problems now are said to be taken care of. The basic problem was minor, one source said, “but it took a long time to fix.”

GD is in a competition with Lockheed Martin to build up to 51 more Littoral Combat Ships. Lockheed delivered its first LCS, the Freedom, last November, and the ship could make an experimental deployment as soon as next spring.

And, while each company has received a contract to build a second ship, the Navy announced Sept. 17 that next year — possibly in the spring or summer — it would choose one of the designs as the basis for all the rest.

Both GD and MTU declined to comment for this story.

”The ship is still undergoing builder’s trials, and it would be premature to discuss the trials until they’re completed,” GD spokesman Kendell Pease said.

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