The US Navy’s Independence-class littoral combat ships (LCS) will receive an unlimited supply of water propulsors, shafts and seals. These components are essential to enable a vessel to propel a jet of water for propulsion, allowing the ship to sail.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) contracted the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of the LCS programme, Wartsila Defense, at a value of $9.1m to maintain an indefinite delivery and supply of these vital parts.

The contract awarded on 15 May 2023 includes four ordering year options that, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of the contract to $60.5m.

Work will be completed globally and defined in each delivery order henceforward.

The completion of the base year is expected to be 12 months after the award. If all options are exercises, work will continue through five years after the date of the award.

This contract was sole-sourced; it was not competitively procured through the System for Award Management webpage. Only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy the DoD’s requirements.

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The Independence-variant LCS is a high-speed, shallow-draft surface combatant design, featuring an aluminium trimaran hull, crafted for littoral environments. The vessel’s speed and manoeuvrability equip it to carry out a range of missions, including surface warfare, mine warfare, and anti-submarine warfare.

This contract for an unlimited supply of propulsion parts closely follows the US Navy receiving the latest Independence vessel USS Augusta (LCS 34) on 15 May, which followed the christening of the Kingsville on 22 April.

Unlimited LCS propulsion parts

With the twin designs in a single LCS class, the programme created the monohull Freedom and the trimaran Independence class variants, each broadly intended to fulfill a similar set of missions but using dramatically different platforms to achieve the goal. 

The office of the US Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, which advises the DoD, stated in its fiscal year 2023 report that both the Freedom and Independence LCS variants remained “operationally unsuitable due to low reliability and availability caused by propulsion failures.”

There has been considerable concern over the early decomissioning of up to a dozen vessels in the LCS programme by the end of 2023 due to this pervasive problem. With many of these decommissioned ships in reserve, this latest contract for new propulsion parts could mean that the lives of these ships may be extended.

However, the DoD has not indicated whether these new parts offer a technical solution to the problematic propulsion systems in the decommissioned fleet. If we continue to see the gradual decline of the remaining Independence ships, then the latest propulsion contract will prove to be a continually costly enterprise to save a dying naval programme.