“All Freedom Littoral Combat Ships in Commission Tapped for Early Disposal” –USNI

Littoral combat ship Little Rock (LCS 9) is underway during a high-speed run in Lake Michigan during acceptance trials. Lockheed Martin Photo

The US Naval Institute’s news service reports, that the Navy intends to decommission all nine currently completed and commissioned Freedom class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) including one commissioned in 2020 and three commissioned in 2019.

Does this make any sense?

We are told the Freedom Class cost as much to maintain as a Burke class DDG. I have to wonder if we are talking total operating costs? Does that include manning? Fuel? Manning is a very large part of the operating cost of a warship, and even with two crews per ship, the manning for the Freedom class (2 x 75) is about half that of a single crewed DDG (303 to 323).

Also sighted in the report is the decision to terminate Raytheon’s AN/SQS-62 VDS program that was to be the primary sensor for the ASW mission module and was expected to equip the new FFG has been cancelled. On the FFG it will be replaced by the CAPTAS 4.

While it showed promise in early testing, the Raytheon-built AN/SQS-62 VDS suffered stability problems and had towing issues with the Freedom-class, several Navy officials have told USNI News. As a result of the poor performance, the Navy announced it had terminated the mission module on Monday.

The report seemed to suggest that because the VDS was not working, the Freedom class could not be used in the ASW role that was intended.

“With no mission module and unexpected costs for the repair to a complex combining gear for the Freedom-class ships, Navy officials said it wasn’t worth keeping the ships in commission.”

Elsewhere I have seen Navy officials quoted as saying the two decisions, while announced almost concurrently, were in fact unrelated. It also would not account for the decommissioning of nine ships because, only a third of the completed or funded Freedom class (after Freedom was decommissioned) that would have remained were expected to have the ASW mission. That meant, at most, five ASW equipped ships.

It also would not make sense because, while the CAPTAS 4 might not fit the LCS, it is only one of a family of related towed array systems. There is a lighter, modular CAPTAS 4, as well a other smaller and lighter members of the CAPTAS family, that could have given these ships a significant ASW capability. A question remains, what is to become of the Independence class LCSs that were to have been equipped with the ASW module?

These ships were built by Marinette Marine. Marinette also has the contract for the new guided missile frigate (FFG). If the Freedom class LCSs were returned to Marinette to be fixed, it might delay completion of the FFGs, which must certainly be a higher priority than fixing the Freedom Class ships. That could be a reason. Still the repairs could be done elsewhere.

One thing is for sure, this decision will save the builders of these defective ships a huge amount of money, in that they will no longer be required to fix the problems they created. Could this be the real reason?

Some good may come of this debacle:

It appears six, as yet uncompleted Freedom class LCS, will be retained. They are to be split between 4th and 5th Fleet. That probably means three in Jacksonville and three forward deployed in Bahrain. The ships in Jacksonville will probably do a lot of drug interdiction patrols for 4th Fleet. Still three ships could not continuously support more than one ship underway, whereas the norm has been two ships for some time now.

Adoption of the CAPTAS 4 may open up the possibility of use of other members of the CAPTAS family including, perhaps, application to cutters.

27 thoughts on ““All Freedom Littoral Combat Ships in Commission Tapped for Early Disposal” –USNI

  1. Paint a racing stripe on the bows and hand them over to the US Coast Guard. Lord knows they are needed and ready-made assets to combat IUU Fishing around the world.

    • Even though the LCS is a nice idea for the USCG. Those water jets would drain the USCG’s Fuel budget. The only way the LCS is ever going to be viable for the USCG is if the Congress allocates fuel budget for the LCS to the USCG. At the same time, they would have to retrofit them to make them economical for the USCG to use.

      Ideally, I think the LCS would be great for the USCG in curtain Districts such as District 7 out of Sector Miami or Sector San Juan, District 14 Sector Guam and Sector San Diego

      • It’s either we keep the LCS in US Hands or try to find a US Ally who’s willing to take on the LCS and do you know any US Allies who are willing to take on the LCS and the cost of operating the LCS.

  2. The Navy’s pattern of changing their mind and then lying about it is infuriating as a taxpayer.

    Their reasons for decommissioning all the Freedom Class are about as believable as their excuse for decommissioning the MK6 patrol boat.

    Everything has been so mismanaged about LCS , its mindboggling. The whole point of the ship was the ability to quickly add off the shelf technology. But at every turn instead they have opted for in development technology. Why did they choose DART instead of CAPTAS II in the first place? Too many chefs in the kitchen for the program since the beginning and no lasting decisions ever made in how to use the ships.

    The Navy says they want a distributed fleet then cancels everything that isn’t a capital ship. And now they want to build dozens of large USVs with no stated CONOPS or proof of technology.

    I’d be shocked if Congress allows them to decommissio all these ships. But unfortunately, I don’t know what that will accomplish. The Navy will slow foot every effort to fix the propulsion system, or to add capabilities to the ship. So they’ll mostly just sit pier side for a decade until Congress gives up, and lets them transfer the ships to foreign navies.

    • The LUSV is the next debacle in the making. Yes, the Navy needs more VLS tubes, but counting on large unmanned vessels to house them is a leap of faith.

      Just as there were simplier solutions to the Iranian speedboat menace than LCS, there are lower-tech and less risky alternatives to adding VLS tubes to the fleet.

      The Navy has an institutional problem with choosing the most arcane, risky and ultimately expensive ways to solve problems.

  3. If the cost of operating the Freedom’s is as high as the Navy says it is, it is exactly the wrong ship for the Coast Guard.

    • I think your skepticism is well-placed. Don’t they have diesels and turbines? The mechanical issue is the combining gear. The 378s had CODAG, and didn’t have a reputation as inefficient. Of course when one runs around on turbine most of the time, it is going to guzzle gas. The CG operating envelope and operational experience from the 378s would probably negate the fuel cost argument.

  4. Even Captas 2 exceeds the speced weight in the LCS interface document. Plus, what other ship trails a VDS behind waterjets? How successful is that installation?

    Developing a separate VDS just for LCS defeats the purpose of LCS from the start. Pork, pork, pork.

    That said, I bet it would tow better off an EPF where it could tow from the middle with some room away from the water jets.

    • I read a comment from the Navy to the effect that “LCS is poorly designed to tow an VDS”.

      Details were not given but that statement strongly hints the problem goes beyond any single VDS implementation.

      • You would think that would have occurred to somebody a long while back. Or does the USN lack an understanding of basic naval architecture and propulsion systems?

      • The comment I saw was specifically regarding the Freedom Class, but regardless, who knows what to believe anymore. The original ASW plan was some sort of UUV anyway, not a towed array. But like everything else with this program, they kept trying new technology, then saying, ah, it doesn’t work, and then moving on to something else. The ship was supposed to be a truck for unmanned vehicles, which very few have come to be succesful programs of record almost two decades later. And now, we are supposed to trust the Navy to build 150 completely autonomous USV’s? If they couldn’t make the drones for LCS work, which should be much simpler than what they want to do now, how are we supposed to believe that the new plan isn’t going to be just another boondoggle?

        Regardless of the ASW package, and if we take the word of the Navy that the propulsion fix isn’t that expensive, retiring them en masse still doesn’t make any sense.

        For petesake I’ve some to the point that I trust Congress more than the USN on what to do with shipbuilding, pork spending and all. We could go through the list. The Spearhead Class, they originally wanted 20 (10 army 10 navy), well then they didn’t want it anymore. Now they want a 12 knot ship that they can beach, except the Marines seem to still want more LPDs. They wanted NFS, hence the AGS and Zumwalts, now, nah, even though it met the requirements, they don’t want it anymore. So we are going to rip that out and put in a still in development hypersonic missile. What if that doesn’t pan out?

        The only way Congress is going to be able to impact any of this, is to reprogram the “savings” that the Navy is claiming to create when they change their mind. If it saves 3.5 billion to retire all the Freedom’s as they claim, then move that 3.5 billion to the USCG, or just delete it from the Navy budget. This is unsustainable, you could give the Navy another 20 billion a year, and it wouldn’t accomplish a damn thing, they’d just keep wasting more money.

  5. “…Or does the USN lack an understanding of basic naval architecture and propulsion systems?”

    I’ve no doubt it’s lost.

      • It goes beyond procurement as it stretches all the way to the fundamentals of sea power.

      • Exactly right Malph, its not that the LCS is some unredeemable EDSEL that’s the issue. Its the inability to manage a program competently and the broken procurement process.. How did we get to the point 15 years, billions of dollars, and 30 ships later, that the Navy says “nevermind”.

        The Constellation mini Burke won’t be built in enough numbers to have a distributed fleet or sustain shipbuilding either. So we are just replacing one set of problems with another. Hence the mass USV program, which is less technologically mature and has a less defined conops than LCS did.

        As for operating costs who knows how they are determining that. If they are putting all the costs for experimenting with various unmanned systems, and the integration of them, then of course the costs are going to be astronomical.

        LCS is just the most glaring example of a systemic problem. the Cyclones, the Seawolfs, the Zumwalts, the Mk 6, the transport dock, all programs the Navy changed their mind on.. And even ” “successful” programs like the Ticerondogas and Perry’s wound up being obsolete and too expensive to operate, hence early retirements.
        Congress will make them keep them (or the vast majority)in the short term, the question is if anyone can find a use for what they have and make the most of it, or if they just leave them in port for the next 10 years. Because all of the programs are for the LCS are tied up in different funding sources, its going to be difficult to get anything over the finish line.

        Those ships make no sense for the Coast Guard.

      • The Navy short cut through their own requirements generation program. They got shocked when an exercise seemed to show they could be defeated in the Persian Gulf by Iranian swarming tactics. They went into panic mode and decided they needed something really fast. LCS was a knee jerk hardware response to what was really a tactics problem.

  6. Without the waterjets, the LCS is limited to 12 knots and even a Navy salvage ship can sail at 14 knots.

    Speed is survivability and I found it extremely puzzling as to why the US Navy had such a hard time putting equipment into Mission Modules and ISO shipping containers. The “Plug and Play” Module concept seemed really practical—until it wasn’t and just lagged and lingered on ASW and MCM Mission Modules.

    Can the Freedom LCSs be repaired—sure—if the US Navy wants to spend the time and money on them. Like the USCGC Healy, enter the engine room from the side or the bottom of the hull to fix them but would it be worth the time, effort, and cost? And for what mission when the Shipping Containers haven’t fully matured and the armament on the LCSs seem anemic?

    The USCG wants ships with speed and endurance. The USCGC Healy had no choice but to be repaired, being the only Medium Polar Icebreaker, and fortunately the USCG had a spare engine on the East Coast to ship through the Panama Canal to the West Coast.

    So what roles and missions can a LCS 12 knot ship perform if not repaired? Should the ship be regulated to port security with the RIM-116 RAM, 57mm, ASuW package, and just line the decks with lots of Mark 56 ESSM VLSs which the US Navy doesn’t have? Thus one can have a static short-range base missile defense for Guam or some vital ports and just never ever leave the pier for that long. In place of the NSM, the LCS can have a SeaRAM or Phalanx CIWS at that location behind the 57mm. It will be a boring assignment just sitting on a docked ship, but hey, something is better than nothing although sitting at the pier makes them very vulnerable to subs, cruise missiles, and practically anything else the enemy throws at them. But it will have limited close-in air defense and Anti-Ship swarm defense IF the Mark 56 VLSs are used that don’t require drilling into the hull.

    I think that the LCSs will be too slow to perform escort duty to 20 knot amphibs, sub tenders, and Command ships.

  7. Split the 9 hulls amongst Greece, Philippines, and Ukraine, once this conflict is over. All could be used for short-ranged patrols along the littorals. Armed with either an ASW or attack helo, plus 8 anti-ship missiles, and the 24 VL Hellfire they would complement their other surface vessels.

    Gift them to them and let them pay for any fixes or upgrades.

  8. @ Chuck

    I know how they came to be. Just as I know how your teeth rattle in a small boat doing 30 knots and don’t rattle on a ship doing 30 knots. 🙂

    The answer was never hull speed. More firepower and more robust ROE are……

    This is what the USN should have built and built in numbers. Good range. Simple. American weapons.

    • @X, I too am kind of a fan of this class ship https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDMS_Iver_Huitfeldt_(F361). You should be happy the Royal Navy’s Type 31 frigate is to be based on this class. It has a lot more VLS tubes than the new USN FFG. It is also one of those ships with up to 16 anti-ship cruise missile which looks like will be the norm in future. Its extraordinarily low cost was largely a result of building major blocks in Estonia and Lithuania and recycling weapons from retiring ships.

      Really the answer to the Iranian swarm is not a ship at all, it is attack helicopters and suicide drones.

      Speed was never the answer because the ships we wanted to transit those waters were primarily 16 knot tankers and occasionally aircraft carriers. They needed protection, not a craft that was able to outrun a speedboat.

      • I wanted another T26 to be honest. 🙂

        The US could have operated these ships in flotillas just as destroyers were operated before WW2. A lot of possibilities.

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