U.S. Navy Suspends Freedom-Class LCS Deliveries Pending Gearbox Fix

USS Freedom (USN file image)

Published Jan 21, 2021 7:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy says that it will not be taking delivery of any more Freedom-class littoral combat ships (LCSs) until lead contractor Lockheed Martin has fixed a major problem with the vessel's combining gear, the transmission that marries power input from the vessel's diesel engines and gas turbines.

The Freedom-class LCS was designed in the 2000s as an ultra-fast, lightly-armed, lightly-manned platform for swappable mission packages. Those packages have still not been fully developed, and the vessels have been plagued with concerns over their survivability, lethality and maintainability.

Planned orders for both LCS variants have been trimmed back in favor of a new conventional frigate design (the FFG(X)), but the Navy has already contracted for 16 Freedom-class vessels. The first two in the series are slated for early decommissioning, eight are in service or repair, and the final six are in various stages of construction. 

The Freedom-class has experienced a series of propulsion breakdowns related to its combining gears, and the Navy recently launched a fact-finding investigation with Lockheed and transmission builder RENK AG to get to the root of the problem. In a statement to defense media earlier this week, the Navy confirmed that the team has discovered a "material defect" with the gearbox's high speed clutch bearings. The Navy says that Lockheed will fix the issue, and it will not take delivery of any more Freedom-class LCS vessels until it is completed.

“A design fix has been developed and is in production, to be followed by factory and sea-based testing,” the statement said. “The fix will be installed and tested on new construction ships prior to the Navy taking deliveries of those ships. Measures have been implemented to mitigate risk to the in-service Freedom variant ships while the Navy moves swiftly to correct the deficiency and minimize operational impacts.”

Defense News reports that the temporary operating restrictions will limit the service's current LCS fleet to a top speed of 34 knots rather than the normal 40-plus knots until the retrofit process is complete.