The littoral combat ship Wichita suffered a problem in its propulsion plant last month as the ship was on its way home from deployment. But Navy officials say they do not think the mishap was due to the same combining gear issue that has hobbled other Freedom-class LCS in recent years.
No one was injured in the Oct. 19 mishap, and Naval Surface Force Atlantic officials declined to provide further details, citing an ongoing investigation into the cause.
But the casualty was significant enough that the Naval Safety Command has dubbed it a “Class A” mishap, which involves damages exceeding $2.5 million.
The Wichita was commissioned in January 2019, less than four years ago.
The warship was able to return to its home port in Mayport, Florida, under its own power two days later, following a deployment to U.S. 4th Fleet, where it helped interdict nearly 10,000 pounds of cocaine in the Caribbean Sea, according to a Navy release and SURFLANT spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Jason Fischer.
The Navy has suffered two afloat Class A mishaps in fiscal 2023, which began on Oct. 1.
Six days after Wichita’s mishap, a SEAL Delivery Vehicle — basically a mini SEAL submarine — allided with an object during training.
Fischer said that, while the cause of Wichita’s malfunction remains unclear, the command is “confident it wasn’t a combining gear issue.”
The Navy and industry partners are having to replace faulty combining gear on the Freedom class of LCS to rectify a propulsion issue that caused multiple ships to break down and halted delivery of future vessels, even as Big Navy seeks to rid itself of its littoral combat ships to free up dollars.
Wichita has yet to go through the combining gear repair process, officials said.
It is one of nine Freedom-class LCS that Big Navy wants to decommission as part of its FY 2023 budget proposal, a move that the service hopes would free up dollars for spending elsewhere.
The full Congress has yet to hammer out a final version of the defense policy bill, and it remains to be seen whether the Navy will be allowed to decommission so many young, pricey ships. Earlier this year, however, the House version of the 2023 defense appropriations bill reduced the number of decommissionings from nine to four.
The combining gear is basically a complex transmission that connects power from two large gas turbine engines and two main propulsion diesel engines to the ship’s propulsion shafts.
The class-wide combining gear problem has resulted in limited top speeds for the Freedom LCS that haven’t received modifications, but ships are still able to operate, according to the Navy.
Correction: this story initially misstated the age of USS Wichita. Wichita is roughly four years old.
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