The USS Liberation

Jersey, C.I. – So an aluminium triple-hulled ship built by Austal has been having trouble again. Nope. Not that one.

If you think Condor’s been having headaches with the Liberation (above), spare a thought for the US Navy.

It signed up to buy twelve similar ships from the same ship-builder and hasn’t had much luck either.

This CNN story about the latest breakdown aboard an eerily familiar-looking Independence-class warship actually appeared online the same day (August 30) that the Liberation suffered its latest problem.

So where do the similarities begin and end?

WELL…

The Liberation and the first Independence-class ship were both built years ago by an Australian company called Austal.

(Although the Liberation entered service in Jersey in 2015 – billed as a brand-new ship – it was actually built seven years ago, in 2009. Austal just couldn’t find a commercial customer. Global financial crisis, etc.)

Around the time the Liberation was built – a year earlier in fact – Austal also launched a similar-looking triple-hulled warship called the USS Independence. It did have a buyer: the US Navy.

And it was supposed to be the first of dozens.

Suffice to say, Uncle Sam no longer wants quite so many.

LESS WELL ARMED

They’re not identical to the Liberation – which is less well armed – but from the “waist down”, you can see the similarities.

The Liberation and the USS Indpendence are based on the same aluminium hull – an Austal speciality -with that distinctive large main hull supported by two smaller mini-hulls. The American frigates are a little longer and wider than the Liberation.

condorbehind
Not the same, but… (click on the image for more background)

condorindependence

Both have engines which appear to be causing problems for both Condor and the US Navy.

The Liberation has three Rolls Royce diesels. The American warship has two of those same diesel engines (which are the ones that cause the headaches) plus two gas-powered engines made by General Electric.

Both have the same water thrusters to propel them along.

The US Navy has so far taken delivery of two Independence-class LCS2 frigates and has had a multitude of problems.

Many of these problems are to do with military stuff Condor doesn’t have to deal with – radar, guns and so on – but like Condor, they’ve also had big problems with the engines and the steering.

They’ve also had a lot longer to deal with these niggles yet the problems keep happening (see the CNN link above… and many, many others).

Remember, although the first of these warships and the Liberation were both built seven-ish years ago, the Liberation and its problems sat idle until Condor bought them. The US Navy, meanwhile, has been testing the USS Independence and its ilk the whole time.

SO WHAT GIVES?

Condor is increasingly open about the problems with the Liberation but rarely provides a full engineering report. The US Navy is a public agency so has to publicly report its problems. Well, some of them.

That job goes to a man called Dr Michael Gilmore.

He’s appointed directly by the President of the USA to oversee military equipment testing.

Late last year, he was asked to report on how the US Navy was getting on with its new LCS frigates, to a Congressional Defence Committee.

Dr Gilmore’s report makes for uncomfortable and fascinating reading, especially around page 237.

Apparently the USS Independence is armed with all sorts of clever electronic machine guns that don’t talk to each other, and can be out-foxed by terrorists in fishing boats.

Fortunately, Condor doesn’t face those sorts of risks on a daily basis.

But remember it has the same engines and thrusters.

The upshot is that SIX YEARS after the USS Independence entered service, Dr Gilmore describes it as STILL unreliable.

The latest news coverage from CNN supports his view.

TEETHING PROBLEMS

After six years, how can they still be having teething problems? Afterall, that’s what Condor is alway saying is what the Liberation is having.

They’ve been asking the same question in America for the past six years.

Mere observers can’t be sure the problems are identical but military failings aside, the similarities are striking.

Here’s what Dr Gilmore told Congress about a five-month test only last year:

  • The crew had difficulty keeping the ship operational as it suffered repeated failures of the ship’s diesel generators, water jets, and air conditioning units
  • It spent 45 days over a period of 113 days without all 4 engines and steerable water jets operational
  • This includes a 19-day period when 3 of the 4 engines were degraded or non-functional
  • During the five-month evaluation period, seaframe failures caused the ship to return to port, or remain in port for repairs on seven occasions
  • During one part of the test, the ship was unable to launch its remote-controlled mine-sweeping submarine on 15 out of the 58 days because of 4 separate failures involving diesel engines, the water jets, and associated hydraulic systems

And they’ve had six years to sort this out.

Thank heavens Condor didn’t pay $700 million for its boat, although you wonder if management had access to Google before spending £50 million on the Liberation.

Either way, hopefully Jersey won’t still be experiencing the Liberation’s teething problems six years from now.