Damaged clutch shut down new $360 million Navy warship

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Imagine you just got that brand-new top-of-the-line sports car and you take it out for that first road trip and — you blow the clutch.

Now imagine that your hot new ride is a $360 million warship.

Well, that’s about what happened to the USS Milwaukee, one of the U.S. Navy’s newest littoral combat ships.

The 388-foot, 3,400-ton Milwaukee broke down in the Atlantic Ocean on December 10, less than a month after it was commissioned. The ship had to be towed 40 miles to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia.

The Navy said at the time that metallic debris was found in filter systems in the ship, causing a loss of pressure in lubricant to gears that transfer power from the ship’s diesel and gas turbine engines to its water jet propulsion system.

Navy officials on Tuesday explained what happened in an email to CNN.

The Milwaukee “is designed to operate with gas turbine and diesel engines, which can operate in tandem or independently,” Navy Lt. Rebecca Haggard said. “In the case of Milwaukee, when switching from one system to the other, a clutch failed to disengage as designed. Instead, the clutch remained spinning and some of the clutch gears were damaged.”

Haggard said quick action by the crew prevented more serious problems and the damaged clutch was repaired in Virginia.

The Navy had not yet put a price on the damage and repairs, Haggard said.

Last Friday, the Milwaukee completed a two-day-plus voyage from Virginia to Mayport, Florida, its first journey since the mishap.

The Navy said while at the shipyard of BAE Systems, a Navy contractor, in Mayport, the Milwaukee would take on additional equipment for testing this spring before proceeding to its home port in San Diego.

The Navy’s littoral combat ships come in two variants: the monohull and the trimaran. The Milwaukee is a monohull. With a draft of between 14 and 15 feet and a speed of 40 knots, the ships are designed to operate in littoral environments, or shallower coastal areas.

The past few months have been rough ones for the Navy’s LCS program.

Just a month after the Milwaukee mishap, its sister ship, the USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), was tied up at a dock in Singapore with what the U.S. Pacific Fleet called “a casualty to the ship’s combining gears.”

“Based on initial indications, the casualty occurred due to an apparent failure to follow procedures during an operational test of the port and starboard main propulsion diesel engines,” said a statement from the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The Navy is looking into what brought on the January 12 incident on the Fort Worth so corrective actions can be taken.

“Several options for the repair are under review. No decision has been made yet,” Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight said Tuesday.

While the ships are having their onboard problems, they are also facing a lack of support at the Pentagon, specifically from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

In December, Carter ordered the Navy to cut its projected fleet of the ships from 52 to 40, saying resources that would have been devoted to the 12 proposed LCSs would be better expended on Navy ships with better firepower, as well as submarines and aircraft.