21 May 2021: Way back in 2016 we published the first of three opinion pieces (also 2017, 2018) regarding the Navy's Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), a multi-mission lightly armed coastal vessel that we (from past in person experience on destroyers) deemed a disaster. Problems with design, function, the very concept of module capable mission shifts (i.e. being able to lift out a, for example, antisubmarine package and install a surface deterrent package), crewing, training, and a myriad of other issues, not the least of which centered on their propulsion plants, seemed to offset the potential of these ships. We called them "Little Crappy Ships" and it appeared they indeed were. Now, friends, guess what? The Navy has kind of come around and realized that the money spent keeping these disasters operating just isn't worth it and they are retiring to the "reserve" fleet two vessels well before their useful life is reached. From Forbes (on line):
The Littoral Combat Ship Can’t Fight—And The U.S. Navy Is Finally Coming To Terms With It
The U.S. Navy has confirmed it will decommission the first two Littoral Combat Ships, likely beginning what could be a unhappy reckoning with a program that has consumed billions of dollars without delivering much in the way of useful capability.
A year after announcing its desire to get rid of the oldest four LCSs in order to avoid the high cost of upgrading the vessels, the Navy has firmed up its plans for the first two of the troubled, near-shore ships.
The news website of the U.S. Naval Institute was the first to report on the decommissioning plans. USS Independence, the lead vessel in the trimaran subclass, will decommission in July. USS Freedom, the lead monohull LCS, will follow her cousin into retirement in September.
Freedom is 13 years old. Independence is 11. Freedom has managed to deploy for low-stakes missions around Latin America. Independence, by contrast, has never completed a front-line cruise.
Both vessels were built to last 25
years, but the Navy estimated it would cost $2.5 billion to bring them, plus
the next two oldest LCSs—one of each variant—up to the standard of the other 31
LCSs that are in service or under construction.
LCS Freedom early on
The service decided the ships weren’t worth the money. That should come as no surprise. Yes, the Navy is working hard to grow its front-line fleet from around 300 ships today to as many as 355 a decade from now.
But it’s also trying to reorganize its ships for intensive, long-range combat with an increasingly powerful Chinese fleet. The LCS has no clear role in this kind of fighting. “To give the Navy credit, they’ve shifted focus,” said Eric Wertheim, author of Combat Fleets of the World. “You have to cut your losses on what doesn’t seem to be working well.”The LCS as Navy officials imagined it in the late 1990s was going to be a fast, inexpensive combatant for shallow-water fighting. It would be modular, meaning it would be compatible with plug-and-play sets of weapons and sensors, each optimized for a different mission. Minehunting. Anti-submarine warfare. Defense against small boats.
But the concept was flawed. High speed required a complex propulsion system that, two decades on, breaks so often on the monohull variant that the type struggles to complete a deployment. The swappable modules proved so finicky that the Navy gave up on ever installing more than one different module in any given LCS.
Perhaps worst of all, to keep down the roughly $500-million-per-ship cost of the hulls, the Navy chose to arm them only with light weaponry—guns and short-range self-defense missiles. While the fleet has added to some LCSs pairs of quad launchers for 100-mile-range anti-ship missiles, it hasn’t added Mark 41 vertical cells for long-range surface-to-air missiles.
As the rest of the fleet doubles down on its heaviest weaponry, the LCSs’ light armament dooms them. Too big and expensive for scouting and incompatible with the SM-6, the near-shore warships have nothing to add to the new sensor-missile network.
The Navy might yet find a role for the 31 LCSs it could keep. They could conduct peacetime patrols, train alongside smaller allied navies and maybe partially replace the gun-armed boats the fleet is eliminating from its Persian Gulf patrol force.
But don’t count on it. Every time the Chinese navy adds a new destroyer or cruiser to its own heavily-armed fleet, the urgency grows for the United States to match China ship for ship, missile for missile. Every dollar the Navy doesn’t spend on LCSs is a dollar it can spend on a warship with, you know, weapons.
So, is post an "I told you so" article? No, certainly not. And unless the Navy Department, Bureau of Ships, read my posts (which I kinda doubt!) there would be nothing gained by having posted the earlier articles. But, in my mind, you bet: I told you they were no good!
See you next week!