U.S. Navy Commissions the First Freedom-Class LCS it Plans to Keep
The U.S. Navy has commissioned the first of the six Freedom-class littoral combat ships that it intends to keep, USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul (LCS-21).
All previous vessels in the class have been nominated for early retirement in the Navy's latest budget proposal, including USS Freedom (deactivated), Fort Worth, Milwaukee, Detroit, Little Rock, Sioux City, Wichita, Billings, Indianapolis and St. Louis. According to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, the anti-submarine warfare sonar system for the class has failed to perform, and since it has been canceled, there is no need for the Navy to carry the operating cost for so many Freedom-class LCS.
Combined with savings from the retirement of Ticonderoga-class cruisers, removing legacy Freedom-class hulls would help save the Navy $3.6 billion in operating costs over five years - funds that the service could use on systems that "actually move the needle in a high end fight with an adversary like China," Gilday said in a recent congressional hearing.
However, there is no guarantee that Congress will allow the service to retire so many new ships, the youngest of which is less than two years old. Several high-ranking members of the House Defense Appropriations and Seapower subcommittees have objected strongly because the retirements would reduce the quantity of hulls in the fleet.
If Congress forbids decommissioning, the existing Freedom-class hulls would have to be repaired in order to attain their design speed. Due to a flawed bearing design in the drivetrain's complex gearbox, the previously-delivered Freedom-class vessels cannot sustain top speed; at present, the class is restricted to a (relatively) lower pace of about 35 knots.
The Navy halted deliveries for the Freedom-class until the issue was fixed, and the brand new USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul was the testbed for the repair procedure. PEO Unmanned and Small Combatants commander Rear Adm. Casey Moton told Defense News that it took six months to remove unrelated equipment, gain access to the gearbox, make the repair, put everything back together and conduct sea trials.
The repairs were successful, and Minneapolis-Saint Paul was accepted in November and commissioned on Saturday. Vice Admiral Scott Conn, USN, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities, spoke at the ceremony. “Thank you all for preparing LCS-21 for this day,” said Conn. “I recognize how special it is to be together for this milestone, and to spend this day bringing the newest ship in our fleet to life in this way. And more so, to do it in the state of her namesake cities is unique and special.”