Friday, January 22, 2016

LCS Lube Oil

You've probably read that the USS Fort Worth, LCS-3, has broken down in Singapore and is idled indefinitely pending repairs.  The breakdown was due to operating the combining gear assembly without lube oil.  Does this sound familiar?

You may say it sounds familiar because that's exactly what happened to the Milwaukee, LCS-5, during construction which caused delays and repairs.

You may say it sounds familiar because that's what happened to the Milwaukee, LCS-5, when it finally sailed after delivery and broke down due to metallic debris in the combining gear and lube oil systems.  The ship has been idled and will remain so for weeks to come, yet, as repairs continue.

You may say it sounds familiar because that's what happened to the USS Freedom, LCS-1, on multiple occasions during its workups and Singapore PR tour when lube oil system problems (among many other problems) occurred.

You may think you see a pattern.  

The Navy assures us that there is no systemic problem with the combining gear/lube oil systems.  

You may think that the LCS-1, LSC-3, and LCS-5 all suffering combining gear/lube oil system failures constitutes a pattern and a systemic problem.

The Navy assures us that there is no systemic problem with the combining gear/lube oil systems.  

You may think that the fact that every Freedom variant LCS that has put to sea has suffered a crippling combining gear/lube oil system failure very, very early in their service life constitutes a systemic problem.

The Navy assures us that there is no systemic problem with the combining gear/lube oil systems.  

You may think that four or more catastrophic combining gear/lube oil system failures among three ships constitutes a pattern and a systemic problem.

The Navy assures us that there is no systemic problem with the combining gear/lube oil systems.  

No need for concern.  All is well.  The Navy assures us.  You're mistaken if you think you see a pattern.

Anyway, you'll have to excuse me, now.  I'm going to start a lube oil system repair company and cash in on what is clearly not a pattern.

12 comments:

  1. Well the Navy learned a lesson from WWII (from the losing side). If you say something often enough people start to believe it is the truth. Or worse, you can easily identify the ones that are thinking because they dare to question what you are saying.

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  2. A wind turbine company, clipper, had a turbine with a similar gear box system (I think)
    Not sure if they ever solved it.

    Might be worth a search?

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  3. This seems to be a widespread problem across the class.

    I wonder if a serious design problem is present and if a major retrofit may be in order, along with corrections for future ships of this class.

    If there is I doubt the USN will admit it.

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  4. Will, I been caught out twice on this one, so no grand pronouncement, only a warning. Don't assume that the problem is with the lubrication system itself, it might be a systemic problem with some other system that effects the lube systems, such as the electrical supply, or an interlocking control logic.

    There is also the possibility of human error, where people all make the same mistake. This is not has difficult as you might think. While doing my engineering design course, we read case studies of past engineering problems. Here is one I think is relevant.

    During WWII, A well know aircraft company built trainers for the military. To improve the performance of this airplane they redesigned the horizontal stabilizer. After they started shipping the new design, there was a slue of crashes due to rudder failure. The engineer that investigated the problem discovered the cause was a bolt being installed upside down. This problem was trace back to when the planes were assemble.

    When the design was changed, the designer had reversed the bolt because bolts are stronger at the head end that they at the nut end. But the people assembling the plane saw the change, they assume the drawning was wrong, and had continued to assemble the tails as they had always done before. This had occurred at not just one location, but at several assembly sites as the trainer were shipped disassembled overseas, are reassembled there. Hence the same mistake being made by several different persons.

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    1. Your example and point are good. However, in your example it was still a systemic problem albeit one that shouldn't have occurred and was easily rectified.

      A systemic problem is one that exists across multiple members of a type. The reason is irrelevant. Whether the problem is procedural (poorly or incorrectly written manuals, for example), training (not following proper procedure), or mechanical (an inherent physical problem) doesn't matter. The problem is still systemic by definition.

      In this case, there is clearly a systemic problem. It may be that the system needs a fail safe to prevent operation with low/no oil level. It may be gears that have too tight tolerances. It may be ... well, who knows?

      Whatever the source of the problem, it's clearly systemic and needs to be identified and corrected, not explained away and ignored by the Navy because they want to avoid further embarrassment. The ironic part is that this is a story only because they won't admit a systemic failure. If they would acknowledge a problem and fix it, this would be a non-issue. I have no interest in a mechanical problem that is identified and corrected. My interest is in a problem that the Navy refuses to recognize and continues to cripple ships. The Navy is creating an issue where one doesn't need to exist!

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    2. Have to agree, places such as engines should be kept as easy to maintain as possible.

      Else the ship has no value even as a fleet in being

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    3. I think that there is a deep appearance over reality culture going on here at the USN.

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    4. Alt, you've identified an important overarching characteristic of today's Navy, meaning today's Navy leaders. They emphasize career appearances over warfighting. If that were not the case, we wouldn't see such hesitancy to offer realistic and counter opinions and we'd see more combative, aggressive, and "unlikable" people getting promoted. This personal trait of appearance over substance carries over to the Navy in general. Those same leaders would rather protect the appearance of the Navy they run than expose the warts and fix them.

      Very perceptive comment!

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  5. Patters, very amusing finish to your article, like it ;)

    Of course if I were a sub commander looking to break through an ASW patrol (for whatever purpose) ill defiantly be looking at the LCS segments of the line. Aside from all the obvious benefits of being able to detect an LCS a long way off and hence avoid or attack it ( due to the pump jet drive system and hull self-noise ). These reliability issues seem to suggest to me that during high intensity warfare, there is quite a chance it simply won’t be on station.

    I think there IS a pattern one might exploit, and the technical nature of whether it’s a fuel pump, engine mounting corrosion or contaminated oil is largely irrelevant.

    Warfare tends to be intolerant of excuses, if you know what I mean?

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    1. Patters? ??? I don't know that word or reference?

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    2. "... during high intensity warfare, there is quite a chance it simply won’t be on station."

      You've identified a serious issue, even largely than simple reliability, and that is availability.

      Availability is a function of mechanical reliability, certainly. However, there is also the issue of maintenance for the LCS. By design, the LCS MUST put into port every two weeks for maintenance since they can't do it aboard ship. They must also put into port for more extensive maintenance every four weeks or so. This means that even in the middle of a high intensity conflict the LCSs will be regularly leaving and, therefore, unavailable. Given that 52 LCSs will make up a third or more of our combat fleet, this is very disturbing.

      On a related note, I don't know whether this maintenance concept will be carried over into the "frigate" version of the LCS but I've seen nothing to indicate that it won't.

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