Update: Is the U.S. Navy the Lamborghini of the Seas?
With multibillion-dollar embarrassments idling in port, the U.S. Navy has had a rough ‘15.
What does $437 million get you? Approximately 380 feet of warship for 20 days. Just three weeks into its naval career, Littoral Combat Ship 5, otherwise known as the USS Milwaukee, went dead in the water due to engine trouble.
Although the ship is loaded to the gills with redundancies, the US Navy stated that the Milwaukee lost propulsion and had to be towed 40 miles to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Virginia on Dec. 11. This, despite an engine configuration designed to ensure the ship is able to make it into port on its own power, even if an engine fails. Originally traveling from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Mayport, Florida, the Milwaukee had to quickly jettison its schedule.
Built by Marinette Marine Corps in Marinette, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee was designed to serve as a modular warship capable of changing configurations within 72 hours for the mission at hand. Powered by two Rolls-Royce MT30 36 MW gas turbines and two Colt-Pielstick diesel engines, and propelled by four Rolls-Royce waterjets, the ship is capable of traveling 45 knots (52mph) and has a 3,500-mile range. Although the cause of the propulsion loss is unclear, we do know the ship will not hit any of those marks in the immediate future. The ship was towed into port after engineers found metal particulate in the lube oil filter.
Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has perhaps been the most vocal critic of the program’s embarrassment. “U.S. Navy ships are built with redundant systems to enable continued operation in the event of an engineering casualty,” he said, “which makes this incident very concerning.”
These powertrain failures join a growing list of troubles for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships, including the announcement on Dec. 14 of problems with a $700-million mine hunting system, and activist grumblings over the naming of the Independence-class USS Jackson, which was commissioned Saturday.
After 16 years and $700 million of development, the Navy’s new Remote Minehunting System (RMS) is far from functional. Designed for the Littoral Combat Ships, the system uses underwater drones to detect and eliminate mines. The Office of Operational Test and Evaluation determined the system failed to meet basic requirements needed to be deemed an operational tool during testing in 2014. Namely, the ability to detect explosives and destroy mines. Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics announced that his office would conduct a review of the system in early 2016.
Adding fuel to the fire, the Navy is now under fire from activists for naming LCS 6 the USS Jackson, due to President Andrew Jackson’s involvement in the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and his ownership of slaves. Connecticut NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile said the naming was “totally appalling.”
Will the Navy make its way out of these rough seas in 2016? One thing is certain: Many eyes, and not just those of the branch’s brave sailors, will be fixed on the near and far horizon.