Navy could spend millions to repair littoral combat ships

A local expert said the fix is a major one and will likely cost taxpayers at least another $10 million a ship.

MAYPORT, Fla. — A major development came Tuesday for the Navy ships based at Naval Station Mayport with a history of engine issues.

Action News Jax’s John Bachman has followed the development of littoral combat ships for nearly 7 years, from construction to deployment.

FEBRUARY 2015: Action News Investigates: 8 warships coming to Naval Station Mayport

Now, the Navy says it knows what is causing the power problems.

But a local expert said the fix is a major one and will likely cost taxpayers at least another $10 million a ship.

In December 2019, Bachman spent a night on the Mayport littoral combat ship, the USS Little Rock. While on board, he heard engine failure announcements.

VIDEO: John Bachman’s experience on board the USS Little Rock in 2019

Just a few months later, while on its first deployment, the Little Rock had to be brought back to Mayport for engine issues.

“This has been a very serious problem and we want to make sure we work with the industry to hold the terms of the contract,” said Capt. Andy Gold, LCS program manager.

On Tuesday, in a presentation to journalists and industry insiders, the Navy said it found the problem: ball bearings that can’t handle the load.

Bachman: “Is this a major undertaking to fix this?”

Maritime Expert Rod Sullivan: “Yeah, this is a major fix.”

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Sullivan is retired Navy and has criticized the LCS program for having a design flaw.

“So we’re talking about dry docking the ship, cutting a hole in the steel hull, taking out old ball bearings and putting in the new ones. This is not a small job. This is expensive, time consuming job to take care of,” Sullivan said.

In October, the job was estimated to cost between $10 and $20 million per ship. A reporter asked Tuesday who would pay.

Reporter: “Why is the Navy paying anything if this was a latent defect that should never have been installed in the ships in the first place?”

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Gold: “Totally understand where the public is coming from and we take our responsibility very seriously there.”

The Navy said it is looking at the contract to see if the builder will be responsible. But Sullivan said it’s likely taxpayers will be paying and he questions whether the fix is worth it.

“The only thing this combined gear does is increases the ship’s speeds from 39 miles an hour to 46 miles an hour. Is it really worth it to spend up to a quarter of a billion dollars to achieve 7 more miles per hour in ship speed in an age when opponents will have hypersonic missiles?” Sullivan said.

The Navy said Tuesday that the USS St. Louis LCS 19 is undergoing the fix right now. It also said the fix will be installed in all ships still being built, including LCS 23 through 31.

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