USS Coronado Bangs Into Panama Canal

lcs 4 uss coronado trials
LCS 4 on Acceptance Trials, image: Austal

It’s not really a big deal that USS Coronado, the U.S. Navy’s fourth littoral combat ship (LCS), banged itself up today while transiting through the Panama Canal’s Pedro Miguel Locks.  With only feet to spare on either side of the “amas” there’s not much room for the Austal-designed warship to get through the canal. For Panamax merchant vessels, there’s likely even less room.

Unfortunately, it was the second such incident to occur while performing this very task, on consecutive occasions, by this same class of vessel.  Her predecessor USS Independence experienced a very similar incident during her last transit.

When Panamax merchant ships hook up to the “mules” which guide them into the lock, the guide wires line up  fairly closely with the level of the ship’s main deck.  For the Coronado, these guide wires angle downward because her main deck is significantly closer to the waterline than other ships.  This angle presents inherent difficulties to maintaining lateral control of the ship when entering the lock because the side-to-side vector force of the guide-wires is diminished as the downward angle of the guide-wire increases.

The solution to this issue is likely quite varied, so I’ll pose the following question to the gCaptain audience:

If you owned a multi-million dollar vessel and were worried about it banging into the side of the Panama Canal, what steps would you take the mitigate the risk of damage?

In other LCS news, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced today that only 32 ships, of the original 52 ships ordered, will actually be built.  He notes that the U.S. Navy is “relying too heavily on the LCS to achieve its long term goals for ship numbers”  and that defense spending will be cut by $75 billion over the next two years.

“We need to closely examine whether the LCS has the independent protection and firepower to operate and survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies, especially in the Asia Pacific,” noted Hagel.

On a more positive note however, USS Independence (LCS2) was going through heavy weather speed trials recently and did well over 40 knots in sea state 5.  Our source notes the ship performed flawlessly.