The Navy wants to ditch 4 of its 'little crappy ships' more than a decade early

Military Tech
The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) is underway conducting sea trials off the coast of Southern California on February 21, 2013. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans)

In the latest sign that the Navy seems to have finally given up on its issue-plagued 'little crappy ships,' the service reportedly plans on decommissioning the first four littoral combat ships in 2021 to save cash.

According to a December memo from the White House's Office of Management and Budget, the plan would decommission the littoral combat ships Freedom, Independence, Fort Worth and Coronado, all of which have "between 12 and 17 years of planned hull life remaining," Defense News reports.

The proposal is part of the Navy's plan to slash 24 ships from its fleet — a dozen vessels currently in service and a dozen planned for construction — in order to produce billions of dollars in savings.

Those savings would purportedly allow the service to focus on ongoing aircraft carrier maintenance issues and the production of expensive new vessels like the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines.

Overall, the proposal would immediately shrink the size of the Navy's overall fleet to 287 ships from 293 shi[s, per Defense News, well below the service's lofty goal of building a 355-hull fleet by 2034.

The OMB flatly rejected the Navy's proposal and insisted the service to come up with a plan "to achieve a 355-ship combined fleet, including manned and unmanned ships, by 2030," the Navy's proposal comes as another sign of the service's frustration with the LCS in recent years.

Initially as a "relatively inexpensive surface combatant" with an advanced modular design, the Navy technically had 16 operational LCS hulls at the end of fiscal year 2019, according to the latest Congressional Research Service analysis of the line.

But years of frequent mechanical failures ad embarrassing cost overruns kept the Navy from deploying a single one of the small surface combatants during all of 2018 despite officials' previous plans to deploy several to join the 7th and 5th Fleets, reinforcing the vessel's reputation as a "little crappy ship."

Indeed, the Pentagon Operational Test & Evaluation office's review of the LCS fleet published back in January 2018 revealed alarming problems with the LCS, including problems with combat system elements like radar, limited anti-ship missile self-defense capabilities, and a distinct lack of redundancies for vital systems necessary to reduce the chance that "a single hit will result in loss of propulsion, combat capability, and the ability to control damage and restore system operation."

"Neither LCS variant is survivable in high-intensity combat," according to the report. "Although the ships incorporate capabilities to reduce their susceptibility to attack, testing of analogous capabilities in other ship classes demonstrated that such capabilities have limited effectiveness in high-intensity combat."

The Navy had previously explored a new vessel to take on the missions initially envisioned for the LCS. As of fiscal year 2020, the Navy wanted to shift small surface combatant procurement to focus on the FFG(X), a guided missile frigate that, based on the LCS design, will "employ unmanned systems to penetrate and dwell in contested environments"— just like the LCS, but without the headache (and additional costs).

"In many ways, this FFG(X) design goes beyond what today's LCS can do, particularly as it relates to surface warfare," as USNI News put it at the time. "The RFI states the frigate should be able to conduct independent operations in a contested environment or contribute to a larger strike group, depending on combatant commander needs."

Despite this, Congress insisted using the Navy's last LCS procurement year back in fiscal year 2019 to saddle the service with three additional LCS hulls for a total of 35, well above its requirement for 32 vessels.

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