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The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-1) USS Freedom is plagued by extensive corrosion and manufacturing issues more recent and serious than anything the Pentagon or prime contractor Lockheed Martin has publicly acknowledged thus far.
This is based on a guided tour of the ship in dry dock, as well as sources intimately familiar with Freedom’s design, repairs and operations, U.S. Navy documents and defense analysts.
The vessel is rusting and blistered by corrosion in many areas, marred by crack repairs throughout the deckhouse and hampered by what appear to be flaws in vital piping systems.
Corrosion is particularly evident throughout the ship’s waterborne mission area, located at the Freedom’s stern, because of a large gap between the stern doors and the vessel’s deck floor, which allows water to pour in when the doors are closed. They are supposed to form a watertight seal (see photo.)
As part of its plan to address some of the Freedom’s problems, the Navy is apparently adding more sailors – a move that runs counter to the ship’s basic concept of operations, which are meant, among other things, to reduce weight and costs by deploying a ship with as few crewmembers as possible.
But according to a source intimately familiar with shipboard operations, the Navy has plans to increase the sailor count by 50% to 60 personnel this summer, and is studying the impact of further increasing the crew size to 150, close to the crew size on a a frigate, both to allow for the maintenance now being deferred, and to make sure the vessel can conduct combat operations. Because, as Navy Undersecretary Robert Work stressed during the Navy League conference, LCS is a warship.
However, there are caveats. “It [LCS] is not designed or intended to operate in a high-intensity air defense environment unless these operations are being conducted under the air defense coverage of a carrier strike group or amphibious ready group,” the conops notes. Or, as the Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) puts it, “LCS is not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment.”
Defense analysts have voiced concerns, too. “The ship currently lacks a torpedo detection capability,” the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) says in a 2010 report.
While the U.S. Navy touted the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-1) USS Freedom’s completion of special trials in May as a solid success, service officials still found issues on the ship that need to be addressed, according to ship documents recently obtained by Aviation Week.
The ship areas and components that created issues during the special trials, the documents show, include the following: heat, flame, smoke and flood alarms; hydraulic power unit systems, airborne mission zone lift hoist and platform; lifting capstan; gypsy winch; oily water separator and transfer pump; reverse osmosis system; watertight doors, degaussing system, gas-turbine intake plenum space; and blow-in doors.
The ship also appears to be minus one of its four engines, upon which repair and reassembly work was started this month, according to the documents.