The USS Fort Worth, which was damaged in January when it was in Singapore, has now been quietly repaired, according to the Texas congresswoman who helped get the littoral combat ship named for the city “where the West begins.”
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, who is in Fort Worth during the congressional recess, revealed the status of the ship to McClatchy on Thursday by email: “As sponsor of the USS Fort Worth, I was very pleased the Navy informed me the repairs to the USS Fort Worth have been completed in Singapore, at a significantly lower cost than originally estimated.”
The ship, which was fixed this week, had been damaged due to “operator error,” the Navy concluded after an initial investigation. The combining gears, which regulate the gas and turbine engines, had not been properly lubricated – an operational failure that prompted the removal of the ship’s captain in March. The original estimate to fix the damage and for upcoming scheduled maintenance was $23 million. The Navy did not disclose the actual cost for the repair.
“The ship is expected to head back to San Diego at the end of the summer for routine maintenance,” said Granger. “The USS Fort Worth plays an important role in our national security, and we are grateful that she is fully operational.”
The littoral combat ship is a new class of ship that is smaller and speedier than most war ships – littoral means close to shore – with an ability to move in quickly in shallow waters.
U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Lt. Clint Ramsden, who is based in Hawaii, told McClatchy that an announcement about the repairs to the ship is expected Friday. In addition, a final investigative report on the January incident is being reviewed by the Pacific Fleet command and is expected to be released in the next few weeks.
The littoral combat ship is a new class of ship that is smaller and speedier than most warships – littoral means close to shore – and is able to move in quickly in shallow waters. Built by Lockheed Martin, the USS Fort Worth was put in service in 2012. It is based in San Diego and was on maneuvers in the South China Sea when it was damaged at Singapore’s Changi Naval Base.
According to Granger, who was briefed on the repairs, the damage and the costs to fix the combining gears were less than initially estimated. The three bearings that were damaged were replaced and the diesel engines, which provide the ship with its cruising speed and were most affected by the damaged gear mechanism, are now working. The USS Fort Worth will be able to make the six-week trip to San Diego using diesel power, which is cheaper for long hauls.
In April, the Navy had announced that the ship would return to San Diego for the repairs – a journey that would have relied on the less-efficient gas engines and been costly because of frequent refueling.
Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the conservative Lexington Institute, said in an interview, “Having a six-month delay to fix the ship, it’s a little odd. The Navy has to figure out how it wants to maintain the ships.” Another littoral combat ship, the USS Milwaukee, broke down last year.
While the under-the-radar USS Fort Worth fix enables the Navy to downplay the embarrassing incident, the littoral combat ship program is still controversial.
What this episode tells us is that the Navy hasn’t fully figured out how it wants to operate its ships.
Loren Thompson, defense analyst
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter essentially ordered Navy Secretary Ray Mabus last December to cut the number of littoral combat ships ordered from 52 to 40 and to select just one of the two variations – and builders. Lockheed Martin builds one version in Wisconsin and Austal builds one in Alabama.
Carter wants a more heavily armed warship, though he has met resistance from Mabus and members of Congress, who have maintained the same number of littoral combat ships in the budget.