WASHINGTON – After suffering a total breakdown and being towed into port earlier this month, the littoral combat ship Detroit returned to sea Tuesday and is heading back to its home port in Mayport, Florida, under its own power, U.S. 2nd Fleet confirmed.
The ship lost power on its return journey from a deployment in Latin America, which it was forced to depart after a casualty to its combining gear.
“USS Detroit (LCS 7) departed Port Canaveral today under ship’s power to return to its home port of Naval Station Mayport, after making repairs in port,” 2nd Fleet spokesperson Lt. Marycate Walsh said Tuesday.
A source familiar with the Detroit’s casualties said the repairs to the electrical system were relatively minor, but that the issue with the combining gear remains unresolved.
The Detroit is the latest Freedom-variant LCS to suffer a major engineering casualty, but the alarming frequency of the problems with the littoral combat ships have spurred a major effort by the service to find ways of operating them more reliably.
The Freedom-class LCS has been bedeviled by issues with its combining gear, which is an imperfect solution engineered to meet the 40-knot-plus speed requirement. The ship can make between 10 and 12 knots with just its diesel engines, but to go any faster it must engage the gas turbine engines. The combining gear fuses and transmits the power to the propulsion shafts but has a lot of moving parts and has proven unreliable.
The string of combining gear casualties dates back to at least late 2015, when the LCS Milwaukee broke down on its maiden voyage to its home port in Mayport and had to be towed into the Little Creek base in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Early the next year, the LCS Fort Worth suffered a casualty to the combining gear in port when sailors accidentally ran the system without lube oil running through it.
The issues with LCS reliability are not lost on the Navy’s senior leaders. In a July interview with Defense News, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said he is committed to addressing the reliability issues with the platform.
“There are things in the near term that I have to deliver, that I’m putting heat on now, and one of them is LCS,” Gilday said. “One part is sustainability and reliability. We know enough about that platform and the problems that we have that plague us with regard to reliability and sustainability, and I need them resolved.”
“That requires a campaign plan to get after it and have it reviewed by me frequently enough so that I can be sighted on it. Those platforms have been around since 2008 — we need to get on with it. We’ve done five deployments since I’ve been on the job, we’re going to ramp that up two-and-a-half times over the next couple of years, but we have got to get after it,” he added. “LCS for me is something, on my watch, I’ve got to get right.”
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.