Lawmakers Look to Save the Navy’s Crappy Little Ships or the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) – There is little love among the ranks of United States Navy sailors for the vessels that have earned the colorful moniker “Crappy Little Ships, yet some U.S. lawmakers won’t let the service retire them – at least not as many. Members of the House Appropriations Committee are now calling for the Navy to keep five of its Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), yet would still allow for four to be decommissioned.
The Navy had looked to decommission nine of the Freedom-class variants next year but under the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) defense spending bill that won’t likely happen.
On Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee released its draft FY23 funding bill, which is also being considered in the subcommittee this week. The legislation funds agencies and programs in the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Intelligence Community, including the military services, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Agency (NSA). The committee noted that for 2023, the bill provides total funding of $761.681 billion, an increase of $32.207 billion above 2022 and that it is in line with President Joe Biden’s budget request, a funding level endorsed by the Secretary of Defense.
There were two specific points about the LCS including, “a general provision and report language that directs the Navy to retain five littoral combat ships and provide a report to the Congress on uses for these vessels on missions in Southern and African commands,” while it added that the committee, “Prohibits the decommissioning of five Littoral Combat Ships; directs a report on alternate uses of these vessels, such as missions in the SOUTHCOM and AFRICOM areas of responsibility; and permits the decommissioning of four ships, which would also allow the Navy and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency to explore the possibility of transferring them to partner nations.”
Cut or Keep?
It is currently unclear at this point which five Freedom-class LCSs would remain in service, and which four could be decommissioned. At issue is the fact that all of the vessels are relatively new, far younger than many of the Navy’s workhorse vessels – and that is why there has been such widespread criticism of the Navy’s calls to decommission the vessels. However, the LCS platform has been plagued with problems and failed to meet operational expectations.
By decommissioning the nine Freedom-class LCS, in addition to 15 other warships, the Navy had hoped to redirect upwards of $27.9 billion to its shipbuilding budget for a new Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, and for the upcoming Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.
It was just last month, that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday even laid out a proposal to lawmakers that would see the ships transferred to countries in South America, where they could be used to help stop the flow of illegal narcotics in the region’s coastal waters.
“Now, in terms of what are the options going forward with these ships, I would offer to the subcommittee that we should consider offering these ships to other countries that would be able to use them effectively,” Gilday told Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) during a Senate Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee hearing. “There are countries in the southern, in South America, as an example as you pointed out, that would be able to use these ships that have small crews. And so instead of just considering scrapping as the single option, I think there are others that we can look at, sir.”
Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have been critical of the Navy’s efforts to “deep six” the LCS warships, as none have reached their expected service lives. However, Gilday was also blunt in his description of the problems and issues with the vessels – mechanical and otherwise.
“Unfortunately the Littoral Combat Ships that we have, while the mechanical issues were a factor, a bigger factor was the lack of sufficient warfighting capability against a peer competitor in China,” Gilday continued. “A key factor in the determination was the anti-submarine warfare package that was being developed for the Freedom-class hull that just were ineffective. And so we refused to put an additional dollar against that system that wouldn’t match the Chinese undersea threat. That was a primary driver, sir, in leading us to determine that those ships relative to others, just didn’t bring the warfighting value to the fight.”
LCS Finally Heads to the Middle East
The LCS program was actually developed during the Global War on Terror (GWOT) to operate in near-shore or littoral waters, including those of the Middle East. Yet, it wasn’t until last month that the Freedom-class LCS USS Sioux City (LCS-11) became the first of the class to actually be deployed to the region.
The vessel had previously been assigned to the U.S. Southern Command with a United States Coast Guard law enforcement detachment on board to help perform counter-narcotics operations. In April 2021, Sioux City operated in the Caribbean Sea where her crew helped seize 600 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of $24 million from drug traffickers. In October of the same year, the ship seized nearly 500 kilograms of cocaine worth $20 million in the Caribbean.
In May 2022, LCS-11 was re-assigned to the Fifth Fleet’s Combined Task Force (CTF) 153, currently in the Red Sea.
“We’re excited to welcome a littoral combat ship to the Middle East for the first time,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. Fifth Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces. “Sioux City‘s arrival is not only historic but essential to regional maritime security given its immediate integration with our new multinational naval task force.”
CTF 153 is one of four multinational task forces organized under Combined Maritime Forces, the largest international naval partnership with 34 nations. Led by the United States, Combined Maritime Forces is headquartered in Bahrain with U.S. Fifth Fleet.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.