This has not been a good year for the US Navy’s newest ships. Four ships from the Navy’s two classes of Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)—the high-tech, modular warships that were supposed to be the future of naval warfare in areas close to shore—have suffered major engineering problems, including breaking down at sea. Three of the LCS ships that suffered engineering failures were from the Freedom class, ships built by Lockheed Martin for the LCS program: USS Freedom, USS Fort Worth, and USS Milwaukee. The program has also seen other setbacks, including the USS Montgomery (an Independence-class LCS built by Austal USA) suffering a cracked hull after bumping the wall of a Panama Canal lock.
But the LCS’ engineering woes may not be the end of the trouble its shipbuilding programs are facing. As defense writer David Axe reports, David Giles, a British aerospace engineer-turned-marine architect, has filed a lawsuit accusing the Navy of stealing elements of the Freedom‘s design from work he did to commercialize a wave-piercing, “semi-planing” hull—work Giles patented in the early 1990s.
Giles’ design, called the Prelude, was derived from work his firm first pitched to the British Royal Navy. The patents were filed for a design for high-speed container ships, called Fastships. Giles formed a company by the same name to build them. The design patents expired in 2010, but Giles’ company—which is now bankrupt—filed suit against the Navy in 2012 after years of seeking compensation.
Lockheed Martin had formed a “strategic partnership” with Giles’ Fastships in 2002 as the Navy began looking at LCS designs, Giles told Axe. And he claimed that design information from his Fastships designs—for container ships capable of speeds between 40 and 50 knots (46 to 57 miles per hour)—had been shared in confidence with the US Navy prior to that.
The Navy initially passed on Giles’ Prelude hull design because it wanted something smaller and faster. The Navy then changed its mind in 2003, shifting the design requirements into the size and speed category covered by Giles’ patents. Lockheed kicked Fastships off the project but went ahead and incorporated much of Fastships’ design elements into the Freedom class hull, Giles has asserted. Lockheed was not named in the suit.
This isn’t the only suit the Navy faces over accusations of stealing intellectual property. Bitmanagement Software filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year accusing the Navy of pirating the company’s software, installing more than 558,000 unlicensed copies of its BS Contract Geo geospatial visualization software when the service only had licenses for 38 computers. In that incident, the Navy has responded that it received authorization from the company to run the additional copies across its network.
Too hot to handle
Meanwhile, the Navy’s newest destroyer is having its own engineering woes. After being commissioned in Baltimore in October, the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) began a journey to San Diego, its assigned home port, for final equipment fitting.
But the ship suffered an engineering failure on November 21 while passing through the Panama Canal, just a few weeks after the Montgomery‘s mishap. The stealth destroyer, which has cost the Navy more than $7 billion, needed to be towed through the Miraflores Locks to the facility formerly known as US Naval Station Rodman to undergo repairs. It remains there today.
The Zumwalt has an all-electric drive system with power provided by gas turbines. The issue with the ship was apparently in the heat exchanger that cools the gas turbines. A Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) spokesperson toldin an e-mail today that information on the cause of the failure was not yet available.
However, several of the British Royal Navy’s newest destroyers, the Type 45, suffered breakdowns operating in the Persian Gulf this summer because the intercoolers for their gas turbine engines failed in the Gulf’s warm waters. All of the Type 45s are receiving engineering overhauls to correct the issue. The system had late design changes and was never fully tested before deployment. It’s possible that the Zumwalt’s heat exchanger also failed because of the high temperature of the water in the Panama Canal.