WASHINGTON – The outlook earlier this year for the homeward journey of the littoral combat ship Fort Worth was grim. The damage from a January 12 pierside incident in Singapore seemed to be severe, bad enough that it was a question whether any the ship's four main propulsion engines could be brought online.
Soon it turned out that the ship's powerful gas turbines, normally used only to run at high speed, could be engaged. But the combining gear – a complex piece of machinery that allows the two turbines and two main propulsion diesel engines to be engaged in various combinations with the ship's four water jets – had been wrecked in a procedural mishap. As a result, the diesels – essential for economical cruising at any speed – couldn't be used.
Navy officials in Singapore, Japan, Hawaii and Washington considered several alternatives, none too palatable. The ship could be partially repaired in Singapore, be sent almost 3,000 nautical miles north to Japan, or make the 7,800-nautical mile journey to her homeport of San Diego under tow, aboard a heavy-lift ship, or using the gas-hungry turbines. On April 13, the Navy announced the ship would take the latter course, despite the need to make the journey accompanied by a fleet oiler to refuel the ship every two or three days. It was a decision no one was particularly happy with.
But when technicians eventually took apart the combining gear for a closer examination, the damage turned out not to be as severe as expected. The Navy said today repairs are complete, and the Fort Worth will be able to use its full, four-engine power plant when it leaves Singapore.
"Technicians completed repairs to damaged combining gears on USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) in port at Changi Naval Base in Singapore this week," said Lt. Clint Ramsden, a spokesman for the US Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor. "Both main propulsion diesel engines were also restored to service, allowing Fort Worth to get underway from Singapore later this summer and transit across the Pacific with the use of both diesel and gas turbine engines."
Damage to the plant, the time needed to make repairs and cost "were less than projected by initial assessments," Ramsden said.
"Over the course of several months as the ship prepared to get underway using gas turbine engines, Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (SWRMC) technicians conducted a thorough combining gear inspection and found that the damage was limited to three bearings," Ramsden said. "New bearings were then manufactured, shipped to Singapore and replaced within weeks. Follow-on tests showed the system was operating normally and validated the repairs."
The ship, sidelined since mid-January, still needs to complete a series of inspections and LCS Crew 111 needs to conduct competency certifications before the Fort Worth leaves base for sea trials, Ramsden said.
The month-long trans-Pacific journey isn't expected to begin until mid or late August. And when Fort Worth arrives in San Diego, she'll go into a shipyard again, this time for a six-month maintenance availability scheduled before January's mishap.
The official command report on the mishap is still being reviewed by the Pacific Fleet, Ramsden said, adding that a redacted version is expected to be released "within weeks."
There was enough information in the earlier stages of the investigation for Cmdr. Michael Atwell, commanding officer of LCS Crew 101 on board Fort Worth at the time of the January incident, to have been relieved of command on March 28.
The Fort Worth is the second ship of the Freedom LCS 1-class variant built by Lockheed Martin. The fourth ship, Detroit, completed acceptance trials on July 15, and Milwaukee, the third ship, is preparing for a series of full-scale shock trials expected to begin in mid-August off northeast Florida's Atlantic coast. The Freedom is expected to deploy to Singapore sometime this winter.