Hull Cracks Are Drastically Limiting U.S. Littoral Combat Ship Speeds

Credit: ROSLAN RAHMAN - Getty Images
The Navy's troubled coastal combat ship program has a new problem: hull cracks.
The cracks in the aluminum hulls develop when the ship is traveling at less than half its maximum speed or in turbulent seas.
Structural problems are just the latest in a long litany of problems affecting small frigate-sized ships.
The Navy's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program is facing even worse news, though half of the program's ships face disposal. Half of the ships scheduled to remain in the Navy develop structural defects, cracks that limit their ability to less than half their advertised speed. Though the Navy has a plan to rectify this, this is just the latest problem to plague the failed class of warships.
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The problem was first reported by the Navy Times, which obtained internal Navy documents whose contents have been confirmed by service officials. The documents show that the Independence-class littoral battleships — a unique aluminum-hulled trimaran design built by Austal USA — develop cracks in their hulls when the ships are traveling at speeds in excess of 15 knots or in seas with waves of eight feet or more more .
The cracks in the Independence-class ships, according to a Navy official quoted by the Navy Times, "pose no risk to the safety of the sailors aboard the ships." Austal has a solution in mind, but it's not clear how much it will cost, who will pay for it, or when the solution can be implemented. Meanwhile, the USS Omaha, a ship affected by the rifts, is not allowed to sail faster than 15 knots and is not allowed to sail in seas with waves of 8.2 feet or higher.
Photo credit: US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Marie A. Montez/DVIDS
The Navy says all Independence-class ships are capable of meeting "operational requirements," but would not disclose whether or not those with cracks face the same speed restrictions as Omaha. A key selling point for LCS was the ability to sprint at high speeds in excess of 40 knots, allowing for rapid deployment to crisis areas.
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The LCS warships were designed as frigate-sized ships capable of fighting in coastal waters - that is, close to shore, within island chains, and otherwise close enough to affect combat on land. Ships come lightly armed and are outfitted by the shipyard with just a single 57mm gun, a point defense weapon system and two 30mm guns.
Photo credit: US Navy/DVIDS
LCS were intended to be fast and inexpensive, using easily interchangeable "mission modules" that allowed a single ship to quickly reconfigure for surface, submarine, and minehunting missions. After 15 years, only the Anti-Surface module is fully operational, while the anti-submarine and mine-hunting modules are still not prime-time ready. Other secondary missions such as irregular warfare and special forces support appear to have been quietly abandoned.
The fleet of littoral ships consists of two classes, the Independence and the Freedom class. In addition to the mission module issue, the fleet has suffered from cost overruns, delays, propulsion reliability issues and high operating costs. Purchases of both classes have been cut, and the Navy has proposed decommissioning all Freedom-class ships, some of which are as little as three years old. Six more Freedom-class ships, including the USS Beloit, which entered service this week are still in the pipeline. The Navy is still taking them, but the ships are likely destined for a very short sailing career.
The story goes on

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