WASHINGTON — In yet another incident in what is turning out to be a bad year for the US Navy's littoral combat ship program, the LCS Coronado is reported to have suffered a propulsion problem in the mid-Pacific and has turned back to return to Hawaii. The latest issue, this time with an Independence-class LCS variant, follows a series of problems striking ships of the Freedom class.
Sources said the Coronado is about 800 nautical miles west of Hawaii, proceeding at about 10 knots. The Military Sealift Command oiler Henry J. Kaiser is accompanying the ship. About 70 sailors are aboard the LCS.
The Coronado left Pearl Harbor on Friday for the western Pacific, where it was to operate for at least 16 months based from Singapore. The ship recently completed several weeks of operations with the Rim of the Pacific exercises, operating from Pearl Harbor.
"The extent of repairs and any operational impact is unknown at this time. An assessment of the casualty will be completed upon return to Pearl Harbor and additional details will be made available when possible," the San-Diego-based Third Fleet said in a statement.
The Coronado becomes the fourth LCS to suffer a major incident since December.
Navy officials revealed over the weekend that Freedom, the first LCS, has a damaged main propulsion diesel engine that will either have to be rebuilt or replaced. An investigation into the incident has yet to be completed, but indications are pointing to crew error rather than a mechanical problem. The ship is at San Diego awaiting a decision on the repairs.
Two other Freedom-class ships have suffered recent embarrassments in recent months. In December, the brand-new Milwaukee broke down at sea and had to be towed to a Virginian port. The problem was traced to a software issue that reportedly has been fixed.
In January, the Fort Worth, on deployment in Singapore, was severely damaged by an in-port accident to its propulsion system. The ship languished the last seven months in Singapore and only got underway on Aug. 22 to return to San Diego for an overhaul and full repairs.
In its statement, the US Third Fleet said the Coronado’s problems appear unrelated to the Freedom and Fort Worth events.
The Navy's top leadership is vexed by the continuation of LCS issues.
"Last night's problem is the fourth issue in the last year," Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson said Tuesday in a statement. "Some of these were caused by personnel and some were due to design and engineering. These issues are all receiving our full and immediate attention, both individually and in the aggregate."
"To address the personnel and training issues," Richardson continued, "I established a program-wide review earlier this summer to incorporate deployment lessons learned and identify systemic problems with how the program was structured. Vice Adm. Tom Rowden has completed the review, which recommends changes to the crewing, deployment, mission module, training and testing concepts.These changes will provide more ownership and stability, while also allowing for more forward presence."
"In light of recent problems, we also recognize more immediate action needs to be taken as well," the CNO added. "The review is being briefed to leadership before implementation. I also support Vice Adm. Rowden's decision to improve oversight class-wide, which will result in the retraining and certifying of all LCS sailors who work in engineering.
"With respect to the engineering issues, we are reviewing each one and making the appropriate corrections. For instance, the software problem on the USS Milwaukee has been corrected for all ships. Naval Sea Systems Command and Commander Naval Surface Forces will review this most recent problem to determine the cause, and we will respond as needed to correct it."
"The entire leadership team is focused on ensuring our ships are properly designed and built and that our sailors have the tools and training they need to safely and effectively operate these ships," Richardson concluded. "These ships bring needed capability to our combatant and theater commanders — we must get these problems fixed now."
Christopher P. Cavas was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.