Navy Says Upgrading Older Littoral Combat Ships Just Not Worth It

 In China, GDI, Defense, Sea, Air

USS Gabrielle Giffords launch­es a Naval Strike Missile.

WASHINGTON: As part of its culling of ships in the 2021 budget sub­mis­sion, the Navy wants to scrap four Littoral Combat Ships which it says are already so out­dat­ed they can’t be even be used for train­ing any­more, despite two of them being less than a decade old.

The request­ed retire­ment is anoth­er exam­ple of the litany of prob­lems the LCS pro­gram has suf­fered during its short life: cost over­runs, highly-antic­i­pat­ed ship mod­ules that just don’t work, and propul­sion issues that have made the pro­gram a poster child of a messy mil­i­tary pro­cure­ment cul­ture.

The plan, if blessed by Congress, would retire the first two ships from the Freedom class — USS Freedom and Fort Worth — com­mis­sioned in 2008 and 2012, respec­tive­ly. The first two Independence-class ships are also on the chop­ping block. USS Independence was com­mis­sioned in 2010 and the USS Coronado was just com­mis­sioned in 2014, making it brand-new in the world of naval lifes­pans. 

Introducing the Navy budget ear­li­er this week, Rear Adm. Randy Crites, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of the Navy for budget, said “we’ve gotten all we can get out of those ships in terms of test­ing.”

The ser­vice looked at upgrad­ing the ships to reflect the cur­rent LCS con­fig­u­ra­tions, but “in the con­text of great power com­pe­ti­tion they were less impor­tant,” than other class­es of ships, Crites said. “So, we took those sav­ings and applied it to other areas.”

In its budget jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, the Navy said the ships “have been test arti­cles and train­ing assets, and were key in devel­op­ing the oper­a­tional con­cepts lead­ing to the cur­rent deploy­ment of LCS ships today…But can­celling their mod­ern­iza­tion allows us to pri­or­i­tize lethal­i­ty and sur­viv­abil­i­ty where we need it.”

The Pentagon Operational Test & Evaluation office’s 2019 review of the pro­gram was damn­ing, report­ing, “both LCS seaframes have lim­it­ed anti-ship mis­sile self-defense capa­bil­i­ty. The Navy has not fully tested these combat sys­tems and the Navy does not plan to con­duct fur­ther air war­fare oper­a­tional test­ing of Freedom seaframes 1 through 15 in their cur­rent combat system con­fig­u­ra­tion. The Navy has accept­ed the risk of con­tin­ued oper­a­tions with a combat system that they have not oper­a­tional­ly tested.”

The pro­gram all but bot­tomed out in 2015 and 2016 after a series of embar­rass­ments that saw mechan­i­cal break­downs on four of the six ships then in ser­vice, lead­ing to an over­haul of the pro­gram and even­tu­al­ly, the deci­sion to retire these older ships rather than upgrade them.

The ser­vice tossed its orig­i­nal oper­at­ing con­cept over­board, in which a single LCS would swap out anti-sur­face, anti-sub­ma­rine or mine-war­fare mis­sion pack­ages in port depend­ing on what the next mis­sion was. The plan proved unwork­able when it was dis­cov­ered the mis­sion pack­ages were more com­plex than antic­i­pat­ed, and Congress, year after year, cut fund­ing for them.

In the end, it’s not clear how long a ser­vice life any of the LCS hulls will have. By this summer, the Navy will award the first con­tract for its new frigate pro­gram, which will — at least in part — even­tu­al­ly take the place of the LCS.

But a few of the ships are out there, doing what they can.

USS Little Rock is slated to receive a laser weapon during its upcom­ing deploy­ment, the com­man­der of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Richard Brown told reporters recent­ly. It’s likely the ship will deploy to the 4th Fleet, where LCS USS Detroit is oper­at­ing.

Since November, two LCS — the USS Montgomery and USS Gabrielle Giffords — con­duct­ed free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion cruis­es near the con­test­ed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, the Giffords while sport­ing the new Naval Strike Missile, a long-range, pre­ci­sion strike weapon that seeks and destroys enemy ships at dis­tances greater than 100 nau­ti­cal miles.

With Navy offi­cials con­firm­ing that they’re likely to see flat ship­build­ing bud­gets for the forseable future, every dollar spent on a hull will count. The fight to prove itself for all class­es of ship is on.

Source: Breaking Defense

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