According to reports from the Navy the USS Milwaukee had to be towed back to port after suffering technical problems shortly after its launch.

The advanced littoral combat ship (LCS) is the most recent vessel launched by the U.S. Navy, and it lasted only three weeks at sea before it suffered a “complete loss of propulsion” due to metal filings in its lubrication oil.

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The Milwaukee, which cost $362 million to build, was then towed into port for repairs. It is one of the most advanced ships in the U.S. Navy, designed to move easily in shallow coastal waters and respond to asymmetric threats.

According to Navy Times, the Freedom-class LCS was commissioned on November 21 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, before suffering problems on the journey to San Diego. The Californian city will serve as the home port of the Milwaukee.

Early problems with the propulsion system became more serious as the Milwaukee sailed down the eastern seaboard following a stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It eventually suffered an “engineering casualty” and was towed to Little Creek, Virginia.

Senator McCain upset by systems breakdown

The embarrassing events led to an angry reaction from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “Reporting of a complete loss of propulsion on USS Milwaukee is deeply alarming, particularly given this ship was commissioned just 20 days ago,” McCain said in a statement. “U.S. Navy ships are built with redundant systems to enable continued operation in the event of an engineering casualty, which makes this incident very concerning.”

McCain later pushed for an explanation for the incident. “I expect the Navy to conduct a thorough investigation into the root causes of this failure, hold individuals accountable as appropriate, and keep the Senate Armed Services Committee informed,” he said.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that fine metal debris collected in the lube oil filter, eventually causing the system to shut down. Investigators are not yet sure why the metal debris was present in the system.

After the debris was discovered in the port side lube oil filter it was shut down as a precaution. The starboard side later lost lube oil pressure due to filings, and the ship had to be towed. The Navy claims that metal filings in lube oil have not affected other Freedom-class ships.

Freedom-class ships have come in for criticism

Critics have argued that the Milwaukee and the rest of its class have not lived up to expectations. The ship is one of a number of new 380-foot vessels that were supposed to offer the capability of swapping out combat modules for other equipment used in searching for underwater mines or hunting submarines.

These interchangeable modules were meant to be moved in and out of ships within 72 hours, but so far analysts are disappointed with performance. Dakota Wood, senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., says that the “plug and play” concept is not working.

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. and shipbuilder Marinette Marine have delivered three Freedom-class ships so far: the USS Freedom, USS Fort Worth and the USS Milwaukee. There are 6 more of the ships currently under construction.

Navy claims successful deployments in South China Sea

The U.S, Navy has ordered 52 of the ships, and foreign navies have also expressed an interest in purchasing them. Despite criticism from analysts, the U.S. Navy says that it is happy with the performance of its LCS vessels.

Since delivery in 2012 the USS Fort Worth has made trips totaling thousands of nautical miles. It was recently sent to the South China Sea, where it was shadowed by Chinese vessels. The USS Freedom has also been active in the South China Sea, where its deployment was deemed a success despite a number of breakdowns.

China has been threatening vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea due to a massive land reclamation program which has seen the construction of military facilities on previously submerged coral reefs. The role of the U.S. Navy has historically been to maintain freedom of navigation, and the USS Milwaukee is true to that tradition.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re at war or at peace, the Navy is doing its job of keeping sea lanes open. It hearkens back to the start of the U.S. Navy, which was to fight pirates,” said the ship’s commanding officer Kendall G. Bridgewater.

When fully operational the USS Milwaukee can expect to play an important role in those efforts.