U.S. Navy Wants to Decommission Six Littoral Combat Ships
The U.S. Navy is doing what it can to high-grade its troubled fleet of Littoral Combat Ships, repairing persistent defects in the best vessels while attempting to dispose of the worst - including two Freedom-class ships that are just a few years old.
The Navy has already received congressional approval to decommission LCS 1 and 2, which have long been relegated to a test and training role due to breakdowns. In the Pentagon's defense budget proposal for FY2022, the service now seeks authorization to decommission hulls 3, 4, 7 and 9, for a total of six to be removed from the fleet and written off.
LCS 3 and 4 were put on the chopping block last year, but Congress declined to authorize their deactivation. LCS 7 and 9 - commissioned in 2016 and 2017, respectively - are newly added to the request.
In its budget overview, the Navy explained that LCS 7 and 9 have sustained major propulsion casualties related to the Freedom-class vessels' notorious combining gear problems, and they "will incur significant associated repair costs." By taking these ships off active duty, the repair costs could be avoided and the funds redirected to building a tougher, better-armed, more reliable replacement - the new Constellation-class.
After disposing of the lowest-performing vessels, dozens of LCS hulls will still remain in the fleet, where they will require an estimated $50-70 million per year each to operate and maintain - approaching the opex for a larger and more capable Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. According to the Navy, that price tag is driven by multiple component failures, coupled with a maintenance program that relies heavily on paid contractors during port calls.
To get after these issues, the Navy has assigned a longtime LCS program officer - Qualcomm engineer and Navy reservist Rear Adm. Robert Nowakowski - to run a task force on remediating the worst of the problems. The task force has identified 32 failure-prone components across both vessel classes, and it is focusing in on the four or five parts in each class that have the biggest impact on readiness.
The task force is also re-examining the maintenance model for the vessels. In a press conference Monday, Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener told media that the current timeline for an in-port contractor repair session is as long as 14 days, and it can take up to 21 days to find and deliver the right contractor to a forward-deployed LCS. The Navy wants to get that timeline down and to shift a greater share of the workload onto the crew - or onto a team of supernumerary U.S. Navy personnel.
"I think one of the toughest challenges we’ve had is quite frankly one is how we do the maintenance [with contractors]," said Nowakowski. "It left us with the inability quite frankly to troubleshoot to the level that the Navy is used to doing."