Another new littoral combat ship has been rendered “hors de combat” on a long term basis, the third one in a year, and while the article does not say so, this one appears to be one of at least two where the issue was crew maintenance failure. The USS Freedom lost a main engine when “seawater entered the engine oil lube system through a leak in a seawater pump's mechanical seal.”
It’s hard to follow that description, because normally the mechanical seal on a seawater pump would be sealing the shaft that connects the electric drive motor to the pump, and it would be sealing the pumped content from the atmosphere of the ship, or from the electric motor. Freedom must have some pretty funky mechanical systems to allow the failure of such a seal to dump seawater into the lube oil system. Either that or the government is doing one of its infamous tap dances again.
And yes, seawater pumps cooling diesel engines is something I know quite a lot about. Look at the picture at the top of this blog. Granted, I was an electrician, but those pumps are driven by electric motors, and I have actually changed the mechanical seals in question. Seawater did not get into our engine lube oil when the seal failed; it sprayed into the electric motor, creating a bit of havoc, and then went into our bilge.
In any case, allowing the leak (whatever it was) to develop is bad enough, but apparently it was not discovered for quite a long time, because the entire engine is having to be replaced due to interior rust. That means a lot of seawater got into the lube oil, a hell of a lot, and it stayed there for a long time without anyone noticing. Seawater in lube oil is not that hard to notice, and regular inspection should have caught it long before it did any damage.
USS Fort Worth was crippled when it tried to operate with no lubricating oil in its main propulsion reduction gears because the crew had forgotten to put it in after draining the gearbox for maintenance. Again, I thought it was pretty remarkable that a ship that new would already be changing the gearbox oil, but that the crew would overlook something so basic as replacing the oil is mind boggling.
This incident happened in Japan, and the ship is having to be towed all the way back to San Diego for repairs, which raises the question of why they were performing this level of maintenance in a foreign port.
The USS Milwaukee suffered a disabling breakdown when a clutch failed to disengage, but she had been in commission for less than a month so it's hard to draw any conclusions from that. Although, from other events in the news it would not surprise me that a Navy crew could screw up a new ship in less than a month.
Later in the article an admiral actually comes to the defense of the ships as if these failures were the fault of the ships themselves. He refers to them as “teething problems of the class.” So the Navy has massive leadership and crew incompetence problems and doesn’t even recognize what it is looking at.
The Navy in which I served was certainly not perfect, but this is astonishing. We had ships that were twenty years old and we took good care of them. We paid attention to our jobs. We took pride in our service. Today’s Navy seems to incorporate none of that, being given brand new ships and simply trashing them.