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Quality control failures at Lockheed contributing to LCS delivery delays

Aug 31, 2016 12:12 PM
A Navy technician secures a bolt for a retractable towing bitt on USS Fort Worth during maintenance in Singapore.

Courtesy U.S. Navy

A Navy technician secures a bolt for a retractable towing bitt on USS Fort Worth during maintenance in Singapore.

Two of three quality control failures in Lockheed Martin’s production of littoral combat ships have yet to be resolved, contributing to delivery delays in the $29 billion program.

In May, June and July of 2015, the U.S. Navy’s supervisor of shipbuilding issued a corrective action request citing shortcomings at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine yard in Wisconsin, where Lockheed Martin is the lead contractor for the Freedom-class LCS program. 

One citation, for inadequate oversight of vessel propulsion systems, has been addressed, Navy spokesman Dale Eng wrote in an email response to Professional Mariner. Two other citations — for inability to adequately control “critical” cleanliness of those systems on USS Milwaukee and USS Detroit, and a failure by the company and its subcontractor, the marine unit of Fincantieri S.p.A., to ensure adequate subcontractor oversight — were still open at press time.

The Navy expected the quality questions to be closed by summer 2016, Eng wrote. The supervisor of shipbuilding will conduct audits on the updated procedures and evaluate data for three months, and once the assessment is satisfactorily completed, the corrective action requests will be closed.

Lockheed Martin considers the corrective action requests part of “a normal Navy-led feedback process” and they “do not reflect the final product” delivered to the Navy, said John Torrisi, a company spokesman.

USS Fort Worth, shown in the Indian Ocean in 2015, was damaged in January when its crew failed to follow proper lubrication procedures.

Courtesy U.S. Navy

Torrisi said each of the three littoral combat ships delivered so far by Marinette Marine met or exceeded Navy specifications for quality and performance prior to acceptance. However, USS Milwaukee was damaged during preparations for a sea trial when the starboard propulsion shaft was inadvertently operated without proper lubrication. The same vessel later suffered another unrelated gear issue, further delaying delivery. In Singapore, USS Fort Worth sustained extensive damage when its crew failed to follow proper lubrication procedures. 

There are seven Freedom-class littoral combat ships in various stages of construction at Marinette Marine, with three more in long-lead production, according to the company. Three of the Lockheed vessels are projected to be six to seven months behind their original schedules, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Navy plans to build 40 littoral combat ships intended for mine clearing and coastal patrols. Lockheed Martin is in competition with Australia-based Austal to build the remaining 14 vessels in the program, some of which will be a heavier version of the LCS designed to address concerns about combat worthiness. The Freedom-class ships are 387-foot steel monohulls; Austal’s Independence-class ships are 418-foot aluminum trimarans.

The Navy says four littoral combat ships under construction at Austal’s facility in Mobile, Ala., are estimated to be as much as 15 months behind schedule. There are no open corrective action requests for any Austal-built littoral combat ships at this time, Eng said.

The LCS program has faced criticism in Congress and from Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who wants the Navy to “down select” to one LCS variant by fiscal year 2019. Lockheed Martin and Austal each received a contract for one additional LCS in April.

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