Why are LCS being decommissioned?
USS Freedom on sea trials in February 2013 before her first deployment
Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans – http://www.navy.mil/view_image.asp?id=144322
The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program has become a subject of considerable debate within naval circles and the broader defense community!
Originally conceived as a flexible, fast, and relatively inexpensive platform for a variety of near-shore missions, the program has encountered numerous setbacks, including questions about its survivability in high-intensity combat, limited armaments, and problems with both the Freedom and Independence classes’ propulsion systems. Moreover, the ships’ modular mission packages for mine sweeping, anti-submarine warfare, and surface warfare have faced delays, cost overruns, and effectiveness questions.
Aerial view of USS Freedom
The premature retirement of these ships has several implications:
USS Coronado rolled out in 2011
- Financial Cost: Billions of dollars of US taxpayer funds invested in these ships. Decommissioning them early means that the Navy won’t see anywhere near the full expected return on this investment. As a result, a considerable embarrassment.
- Capability Gaps: The U.S. Navy planned for the LCS to fill specific roles, particularly in littoral (near-shore) areas. Early retirement could create capability gaps that other vessels not optimized to fill.
- Political Fallout: Lawmakers representing states where the ships became built or based naturally want to keep them in service. Both for national security and for jobs in their districts. This creates a political dilemma, which may not align with the strategic needs of the Navy.
- Global Naval Balance: China’s navy is growing rapidly both in size and capabilities. Any decrease in effective U.S. naval assets could alter the strategic balance, especially in key regions like the South China Sea.
Port-aft view of an Independence-class LCS
Why are LCS being decommissioned? Why are LCS being decommissioned?
Trimaran hull of an Independence-class LCS.
- Reputation: Continued issues with high-profile programs like the LCS could damage the reputation of the U.S. Navy and the broader defense acquisition process. Future allies may think twice before investing in U.S. naval technology if current projects do not deliver as promised.
- Strategic Reevaluation: The failures could lead to a more comprehensive reevaluation of U.S. naval strategy, especially regarding what kinds of ships are most appropriate for future conflicts. The experience could inform the design and commission of future frigates, destroyers, and other surface combatants.
- Opportunity Cost: The money, time, and resources spent on the LCS program could have become allocated to other projects or platforms that might have delivered a better return on investment in terms of naval capability.
Freedom, the first LCS, on commissioning day.
Given the complexity and interconnectedness of these issues, dealing with the LCS’s shortcomings is not easy and could have far-reaching consequences for U.S. naval strategy and national security.
Why are LCS being decommissioned? Why are LCS being decommissioned?
Let’s take a look at their background!
The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program originated in the early 2000s as part of the U.S. Navy’s vision to address new challenges in littoral or near-shore operations. Traditional destroyers and cruiser optimized for “blue-water” or open-ocean combat. Furthermore, often less adept in littoral zones where shallower waters, tighter spaces, and proximity to landmasses introduce different operational constraints. The LCS idea and design called for agilily, stealth, and versatililty. With the ability to perform a variety of roles including anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures, and anti-surface warfare. Largely through modular mission packages that could be swapped out as needed.
Key Points in the LCS Program:
160421-N-YE579-005. ATLANTIC OCEAN (April 21, 2016) The future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) transits the Atlantic Ocean during acceptance trials April 21, 2016 with the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of DDG 1000, the future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) May 20, 2016. Following a crew certification period and October commissioning ceremony in Baltimore, Zumwalt will transit to its homeport in San Diego for a Post Delivery Availability and Mission Systems Activation. DDG 1000 is the lead ship of the Zumwalt-class destroyers, next-generation, multi-mission surface combatants, tailored for land attack and littoral dominance. (U.S. Navy/Released)
- Modular Design: The LCS was originally conceived to be modular, meaning that it would be able to switch roles by swapping out mission modules. This would theoretically enable the same ship to perform different missions—anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures, and anti-surface warfare—during a single deployment.
- Speed and Agility: The LCS designs prioritize high speeds and agility to allow for quick transit through littoral zones and to escape from unfavorable combat situations.
Representatives from Naval Sea Systems Command and Bath Iron Works sign a construction contract at the Pentagon, February 2008.
- Freedom-Class: Built by Lockheed Martin, the Freedom-class has a conventional monohull design. These ships feature a steel hull and an aluminum superstructure.
- Independence-Class: Built by Austal USA, in partnership with General Dynamics, the Independence-class features a trimaran hull, offering a broader deck and potentially more stability in high sea states.
Deckhouse of USS Zumwalt being installed in December 2012
- Early Procurement: Initial procurement was highly controversial, involving competition between the two classes and substantial cost overruns. Eventually, the Navy settled on procuring both types.
- Cost Overruns and Delays: Both classes faced construction delays, technical issues, and cost overruns. The costs ballooned from initial estimates, adding to the criticism the program received.
Testing and Deployment:
Features of the DDG-1000.
- Initial Deployment: The first deployments of LCS vessels revealed significant issues, including mechanical failures and questions about their ability to withstand combat.
- Mission Packages: Moreover, the modularity concept faced significant delays and cost overruns. Some mission modules took much longer to develop than anticipated, limiting the ships’ effectiveness.
Zumwalt‘s deckhouse in transit in November 2012.
- Downscaling and Retrofitting: Due to the aforementioned issues, the U.S. Navy has reconsidered the LCS program. Furthermore, including downscaling the number of ships it plans to buy. Existing ships are also being retrofitted to overcome some of their limitations.
- Role in the Fleet: The LCS’s role within the fleet has been a subject of ongoing debate. Given its limitations, there’s discussion about how these ships fit into the broader naval strategy. Moreover, particularly vis-à-vis more capable, multi-mission ships. Additionally, an increasingly advanced potential adversary in the form of the Chinese navy.
Sea Jet out of the water and showing the unique hull design.
The LCS program serves as an example of the challenges involved in military procurement. Thus, particularly for platforms that are expected to be revolutionary in terms of capabilities and design. With its ambitious goals, the LCS has faced issues from the drawing board to deployment. In addition, its challenges are a subject of ongoing debate within the defense community.
First ships of each class of littoral combat ships, USS Freedom and USS Independence, maneuver together during an exercise off the coast of Southern California, 2011
Official Navy Page from United States of America Lt. Jan Shultis/U.S. Navy – The first of class littoral combat ships USS Freedom and USS Independence maneuver together during an exercise off the coast of Southern California.
SAN DIEGO (May 2, 2012) The first of class littoral combat ships USS Freedom (LCS 1), left, and USS Independence (LCS 2), maneuver together during an exercise off the coast of Southern California. The littoral combat ship is a fast, agile, networked surface combatant designed to operate in the near-shore environment, while capable of open-ocean tasking, and win against 21st-century coastal threats such as submarines, mines, and swarming small craft.
USS Zumwalt undergoing sea trials in December 2015.
Lastly, view of the stern of USS Zumwalt, 2016.