The article “American warships of one class turn into a metal scrub” was published in Vzglyad. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.
MOSCOW, (BM) – A major scandal is unfolding in the US naval community. It turned out that a whole class of ships, on which America had pinned great hopes a couple of decades ago, turned out to be utterly incapable of combat. What exactly are the problems with these ships? Why did they only show up now? What does the massive corruption in the United States have to do with what is happening?
Political events in the United States have overshadowed everything that happens in this country. Including one event related to the Navy, which would indeed have exploded.
We are talking about a whole type of warships, both already delivered to the US Navy, and those still under construction – the so-called Littoral combat ship (LCS) of the Freedom type. And it’s not that they’re useless. And not at the prohibitive cost. And not even that the gearboxes of the ship’s main power plant (GEM) do not withstand the maximum stroke, and with the speed of 47 knots, which was the ridge of this project, he will never be able to walk – they also resigned themselves to this.
But at the end of 2020, it turned out that they generally cannot move faster than a dry cargo ship for more or less a long time. That is, it is not just scrapping metal; it is also almost stationary scrap metal.
Concept and implementation
At the turn of the 90s and 2000s, even before 9/11, euphoria reigned in the American top military-political leadership abyss. Great America was the only superpower. Half-dead Russia begged for loans from the IMF and tried not to lose the war to several thousand bandits in the Caucasus. China was already the world’s factory, but this factory did not have anything to threaten American rule. America could unleash wars, attack other countries, declare good for evil and vice versa, and indeed do absolutely anything.
On the one hand, the euphoria of omnipotence led to the abandonment of investments in such things as hypersonic weapons. On the other hand, it gave rise to a whole class of weapons and military equipment, much more suitable for punitive police operations in ruined underdeveloped countries than for real war with a strong opponent.
Like the other high-profile Pentagon fiasco, the Zumwalt destroyers, the LCS program is the product of an era when American dominance seemed eternal and undeniable. These are the means for the final power stripping of the last centers of resistance on the planet. They were conceived in this form. They were built in this form and created just when the task turned out to be irrelevant. It was also constructed poorly. And if “Zumvalt” only received unnecessarily expensive electronic weapons (REV) and cannons with shells for a million dollars apiece, then LCS turned out to be much more “wrong.”
Initially, the concept was as follows. It would help if you had a small, discreet, and high-speed ship on which you can quickly change weapons. The Navy can throw such a boat into battle in the coastal (littoral) zone of the enemy – and with the support of American carrier-based aircraft, it will be able to act there like a fox in a chicken coop.
I must say that against countries with a Syrian or North Korean navy, it would have worked then and will work now. Coastal radar stations (radars) of these countries cannot detect subtle, stealth targets. The accidental detection of such a ship will be insignificant because until the information passes through all the command chains and the strike forces begin to perform the combat mission; the high-speed boat will leave. Against submarines, it was also useful – at a long-distance or when firing a torpedo. The pursuit of such a ship is invulnerable due to the speed exceeding that of the old Soviet torpedoes.
Everything would be fine, but the concept began to grow into details – precisely as it was shown in the old comedy “The Pentagon Wars.” They decided to make this ship modular. They assumed that the modules’ replacement would quickly and inexpensively change the boat’s purpose – from anti-submarine to the landing base. All these were the disaster of the project. The modules required internal volumes; the volumes increased the body; the enormous body needed a more powerful power plant.
Still, it did not fit into it, the body had to be increased further, and again a new, even more, the mighty power plant was required. Plus, these modules were not some then products and complex weapons and equipment, including a helicopter. And where the helicopter is, there are a hangar for it, a control room, and fuel reserves, which are again volumes and, as a result, contours.
What happened next is called the “death spiral” in English. This “spiral” is when any step forces the player to circle the death ending and then still meet him. These spirals were spinning with the LCS project and eventually turned it into something completely meaningless.
Such a ship needs a robust power plant, which is very expensive and requires a disproportionate amount of fuel. Water cannons, to get the required speed – and, consequently, the most severe restrictions on entry into regions with a cold climate: water cannons cannot stand ice crumbs (sludge), their nozzles freeze without warming up. The highest level of automation and minimal crew – as a result, the staff is overworked. Each sailor and the junior officer have two positions occupied by two people on large ships, terrible overwork. And most importantly, in battle, there will be no one to fight for survivability.
The almost complete absence of weapons – the ships have 57 mm cannons, machine guns, a launcher for short-range anti-aircraft missiles, two small-caliber automatic cannons for shooting motorboats with suicide bombers, or something similar. They also have vertical launchers for Hellfire small guided missiles (less than 10 kilometers) range – for shooting the same motorboats if there are many them.
A battle with a detachment of missile boats for a force of “littoral ships” would have ended in death if it had not been possible to lift helicopters armed with anti-ship missiles into the air and strike them from a safe distance. These missiles must be on board, so the time allows them to be lifted from the deck.
As expected, nothing happened with the modules either. They just weren’t made.
The “anti-motorized defense” module (short-range missiles and small-caliber cannons on the sides) is fully ready and installed on ships. But there is nothing to change it for, and the question arises: was it possible to build this weapon into the body? It would be simpler and cheaper, and it would take fewer volumes. It will never be removed or changed anyway. Mine action systems are half ready – which means sailors cannot use them for their intended purpose without restrictions. Spetsnaz can also be transported, but it can be transported on anything; this is not an outstanding achievement. And everything else failed. For now, at least.
On top of all, this horror was the steamroller of American corruption. Two giants fought for the tasty pie of a new class of ships: General Dynamics with its Independence-class trimaran and Lockheed Martin, which took the lines of a high-speed Italian yacht as the basis of its Freedom-class. In theory, only one should remain – but, alas, they were both too strong. As a result, contrary to all the naval construction practice, the Navy ordered two ships of the same purpose at once, but of different designs. Not to refuse respected people, then, after all, it will be necessary to somehow live after retirement, but how?
Nothing stopped this, as it is fashionable to say in Russia today, “budget cut” – vast and arrogant in the American way. In 2005, First Freedom was founded, and in 2006 the early Independence was founded. They built the ships very quickly, and from 2008 (the First Freedom), they began to enter service. By that time, of course, the United States could not even dream of any forceful sweep of humanity with light cannons and small-sized missiles, but a contract is a contract.
Someone will say: “This is some shame!” No. It is not a shame; this is just a prelude. The scandal came later.
Soon after the ships entered service, it turned out that they could not be used even for voyages – very short overhaul intervals, a matter of weeks. The US Navy carefully excluded these ships from their “deployments” – deployments of forces in the oceans. Their trips could be counted on one hand.
At the same time, scandals continuously occurred. Thus, the Navy was caught retroactively rewriting these ships’ combat concepts to make excuses for not achieving the required characteristics. It turned out that reduced crews often do not cope with the workloads; automation does not help. It turned out that the hull of the Independence ships was rapidly rotting.
But the main trouble came from where they did not expect it. In 2016, the Senate Armed Services Committee discussed the problems of this type of ship. It turned out that Freedom is more delicate than Independence and breaks down more often, as there were water cannon failures and gearbox breakage on the Milwaukee ship, the fifth in the series. The Navy blamed everything on the personnel, but this did not work out with Milwaukee.
At “Freedom,” GEM consists of diesel engines and turbines working jointly on a standard gearbox; the latter is connected through the clutch when speed is needed. At Milwaukee in 2016, shutting down the turbine did not wholly disengage the clutch, as it should have, and the gearbox on one side collapsed. Then the fleet once again rewrote the concept and declared this case to be a single one. Instead of the maximum speed of 47 knots for the “Freedom” type ships, the rate “over 40” began to appear in the documents. That time, the Navy managed to sweep the trash under the carpet.
It was necessary to somehow get out of all this. Since 2014, the US Navy has begun a program to equip ships with anti-ship missiles. This action theoretically raised their combat value – now they could fight, albeit with losses. Since 2018, the supply of NSM missiles has begun. So the US Navy dropped the charges of buying unarmed ships.
But everything was spoiled by the aggravation of relations with China under Trump and his plans to increase the US Navy size. The LCS, with their fast build times, were prime candidates for increasing the number of pennants, but the ships had to be tested. And they checked. In the fall of 2020, during operations to combat drug trafficking in the Caribbean, first at Detroit and then at Little Rock (both types of Freedom), gearboxes flew apart – just like Miuloka had earlier. The problem was that they weren’t trying to reach the design speed. But the gearboxes fell apart anyway.
It did not work to hide, and the US Navy, gritting its teeth, checked the gearboxes on all ships of the series. The result was terrible. The gearboxes have a structural defect – the clutch bearings do not withstand the loads during the stroke “under the turbines.” This is the case with each of the Freedom-class ships, even those under construction. And this is incorrigible. It is impossible to replace the gearboxes with others and to repair the existing ones too. All Freedom-class ships are incapable of combat. They cannot go faster than 12 knots without turbines, an old dry cargo ship’s speed. Not bad for a $ 362 million ship.
The US Navy, together with the gearbox manufacturer (Renck), is looking for a way out. The Commander of Naval Operations of the US Navy, Admiral Michael Gilday, in one of the interviews called these ships the word “plague,” and there is a reason. This problem is enormous – a whole series of costly but dead ships that cannot be revived. And which continues to build! There is a gnashing of teeth; some authors call for merely cutting all the Freedom ships into metal and only not ordering the last contracted one, having paid a forfeit. And they are right.
The US Navy has no reasonable solutions in this situation. Renk may not solve the problem. And if the Independences will serve until they are decommissioned with missiles and can even fight them somewhere, then all the Freedom-class ships have become monuments – and only the political chaos in the US saves the Navy from falling into the largest scandal in decades.
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