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Why Is the U.S. Navy Retiring a Littoral Combat Ship So Early?

USS Independence Retirement
100331-N-1876H-044 KEY WEST, Fla. (March 31, 2010) The littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) is pier side during a port visit to Key West, Fla. Independence is enroute to Norfolk, Va., for commencement of initial testing and evaluation of the aluminum vessel before transiting to its homeport in San Diego. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Zachary Harrell/Released)

One of the United States Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships is heading for early retirement, despite the host of high tech features 

Why Now? 

In a statement, the United States Navy announced that the USS Independence, the lead of the Independence-class of Littoral Combat Ships, is now decommissioned after just over a decade of service.

Littoral Combat Ships

The LCS is actually represented by two different classes of ship: the Freedom-class, a more traditional steel monohull design, and the Independence-class, a much more advanced aluminum trimaran design. As the name suggests, both LCS types are intended to operate in coastal waters rather than in the open ocean.

As a multi-mission platform, both ships come with mission modules that can be rapidly exchanged and allow the ships to conduct various missions, from mine-laying, anti-submarine operations, or anti-ship surface operations.

A Jonah?

On paper, both Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships combine advanced hull designs with state-of-the-art weaponry and sensors onto one platform. The two classes, however, have been the bane of the Navy’s existence.

Both ships have faced acquisitions of over-engineering and reliance on immature, unproven technologies. Both have been delivered behind schedule, wildly over budget. Both classes have sustained criticism of their survivability at sea. Both have had serious issues with engine and drivetrain components as well as corrosion management.

Farewell

During the USS Independence’ decommissioning ceremony, the Commanding Officer of the USS Independence gold crew, Capt. Michael Riley sounded rather positive, praising the ship’s crew and their contribution more than the ship’s capabilities.

“What made Independence successful wasn’t the program managers, industry professionals or even her two captains. It was the officers, chiefs and Sailors of the blue and gold crews that made it operational. They shouldered the burden of shifting programmatic guidance, incomplete documentation or one-of-a-kind systems, and got it to sea,” Riley said.

“They were honest in pointing out when system performances or operational processes failed to live up to their expectations. At the same time, they discovered hidden capabilities in the ship, repurposing equipment and systems to suit the situation.”

USS Independence

100402-N-7653W-102
ATLANTIC OCEAN (April 2, 2010) The Littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) approaches Mayport, Fla. Independence is in the Atlantic Ocean on her maiden underway. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justan Williams/Released)

Postscript

Though both ship classes have failed to live up to expectations, another important factor in their decommissioning is the United States’ renewed focus on great power competition. As a result, smaller littoral ships with fewer capabilities and less survivability than larger Navy ships are now considerably less priority and, therefore, one of the first to get the ax. Moreover, by divesting themselves of the troubled Littoral Combat Ships, the Navy can free up funds for other platforms better suited to countering an increasingly aggressive Chinese Navy.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Written By

Caleb Larson is a multiformat journalist and defense writer based in Berlin but has spent most of 2022 reporting from Ukraine. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, with a focus on American foreign policy and European security. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Coffeejoejava

    August 10, 2021 at 8:11 am

    It is too bad they could not keep them on as some sort of “missile truck”. Load them up with missiles and make them a modern attempt at some sort of PT boat. I have followed this issue plagued vessel from the beginning and watched the Navy completely screw it up with add-ons and unrealistic “concept of operations”. Funny thing is, they seem to be doing the same thing now with the upcoming Constellation class frigates.

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