The U.S. Navy has invested billions in the Littoral Combat Ship. But with unsolved problems and a murky mission set, will this close to shore surface combatant remain a key part of the Navy's strategy?
The USS Freedom — the first Littoral Combat Ship, or LCS — was decommissioned after only 13 years in the fleet. This move appears to be at odds with the U.S. Navy’s goal of building up a force of 355 ships.
The LCS is designed for littoral areas, or water closer to shore. Larger ships have trouble operating in these areas because of the shallow water. But engine issues, mission module problems and the evolving state of the world have put the future of the ship in choppy waters.
Several older Littoral Combat Ships are also being decommissioned due to the high cost of upgrading them.
“The bottom line is, it’s a zero-sum game. Every dollar you spend to keep those [LCS’] going is $1 you can spend on these other, I think, higher priorities” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
To increase the vessel’s punch, the Navy has moved to add the Naval Strike Missile to some of the warships. It also decided to designate certain ships for specific missions, in contrast with the quick and swappable mission modules that were envisioned when the ship was first designed.
There are two variants of the Littoral Combat Ship: the Independence-class, an all-aluminum trimaran design, and the Freedom-class, which is a more traditional steel hull with an aluminum superstructure. “Independence has been very successful deploying overseas to Singapore, in you know, in China’s backyard,” LCS Squadron Two commander Capt. David Miller said. “Starting in late 2019, the Freedom-class followed in the [U.S. Southern Command Area of Responsibility].
” The Freedom-class was plagued by an engine issue that related to the combining gear, a complex piece of machinery that ensures that the multiple engines on the ship can function together. The Navy and Lockheed Martin are working to fix the problem in future ships that are waiting to be commissioned into the fleet, and those that have yet to be constructed.
“In a nutshell, we are running on track to get to put that problem behind us and move on with the future of the freedom class,” Miller said.