McCain: Navy Should Replace Littoral Combat Ship

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Published Sep 20, 2016 2:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

Late last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) reiterated its demand for a thorough review of the Navy's troubled Littoral Combat Ship program and called for the service to prepare an "LCS replacement" design as soon as possible. 

In a letter undersigned by Senators John McCain and Jack Reed, the committee's chairman and ranking member, the SASC called for the Navy to "start planning now to procure and begin deliveries of a new small surface combatant as soon as possible in the 2020s . . . we believe it is [important] to proceed aggressively with defining the requirements, setting the acquisition strategy and fielding the LCS replacement."

The committee said that the replacement should have over-the-horizon surface attack missiles, air defense and missile defense capability, long-duration escort/patrol endurance and robust survivability – characteristics more in line with an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer than with the current LCS design. 

In addition, the committee called for the Navy to reduce planned LCS operational availability from 50 to 25 percent, set up a test site on land for propulsion systems and review manning arrangements. 

The Navy has already conducted an internal review and altered manning and ship rotation plans, including a move restricting the first two ships of each class to "testing" without deployment on an indefinite basis. In addition, one out of every four vessels will be kept near home port for use as "training ships." The vessels’ flexible mission packages have also been deemphasized, and new four-ship divisions will each focus on a single warfare area – "surface warfare, mine warfare or anti-submarine warfare."

However, the Navy has not scaled back its intended acquisition numbers, which would see the construction of a total of 52 littoral combat ships. 

The two LCS classes have been troubled for some time, and over the span of the last year both types have suffered from serious propulsion casualties. The equipment failures are still under investigation to determine whether crew error or design flaws are to blame. 

New aircraft carrier class also encounters mechanical problems

Separately, sources within the Navy told DefenseNews on Monday that the new aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford, the first of its class, is facing delays in starting sea trials due to serious problems with voltage regulators on its four Main Turbine Generators. One regulator reportedly malfunctioned badly enough to damage the number two turbine's rotors, and the turbine will have to undergo a major overhaul. 

Naval Sea Systems Command emphasized that the problems were in no way related with the vessel's nuclear plant. 

The turbine problems will probably push back delivery until 2017. 

The carrier has had reliability problems with a number of systems, notably its launch and recovery gear, which have yet to attain the uptime performance that the Navy says is required for high-tempo warfare operations. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus attributed the developmental problems due to the use of a large number of new technologies within one platform, and has ordered an independent review into the carrier's construction.