WASHINGTON: The Littoral Combat Ship is one of the Department of Defense’s few flagship wastes, a program that is both over budget and failing to deliver on promised capabilities. When the Pentagon‘s fiscal 2023 budget request included plans to decommission nine LCS ships, there weren’t many willing to mourn the fleet.
But now, one of the most vocal naval supporters on the House Armed Services Committee is giving the history of the LCS a different twist: The ship may never be what it was designed for, but it is capable of accomplishing a mission the Navy wants needed now.
“The LCS was not a platform that achieved its goal. We all know that,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., in an interview with Breaking Defense this week. “But it’s a platform that can do low-end missions. So if you get rid of the LCS, what will you replace them with? [with]? Do you then need a DDG to perform each of these operations, or will these operations not happen?
Instead, Luria suggested keeping the LCS but accepting them for who they are. Rather than serving as the high-end backbone of the navies of the future as it once did, the LCS could help offload other ships for more critical operations while still meeting lower-level requirements such as drug bans and working with smaller navies in the Pacific island chains or operating out of Singapore .
The idea of using LCS to fight drugs or piracy is one that Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, has pursued for several years. Given that US Southern Command is always desperate for more ships, assigning the LCS to this mission could be a useful solution.
During the introduction of the Navy’s budget proposal, Rear Admiral John Gumbleton, the Assistant Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget, said the LCS retirements were primarily driven by Freedom-class ships, as well as a decision not to continue with the anti-submarine warfare mission module package more.
The admiral also said the Navy expects to save $3.6 billion over the coming years by decommissioning 24 ships – a series of Luria questions who said “I’m just not buying the number” as it’s real saves money.
“If they say it’s going to be $3.6 billion over five years, do the math roughly, that’s about $700 million a year, that’s about 0.39 percent of their annual budget. So where is all the money going?”
The reality is that members of Congress are tired of thinking about the LCS, but they’re also excited by the idea of a 355-ship Navy. And while Navy leadership may signal a desire to abandon capacity in favor of investing in new capabilities, how many ships will actually be allowed to be retired is a very open question — particularly among members of Congress on a bipartisan basis. during a budget hearing this week that they believe the Pentagon’s $773 billion requirement is insufficient to keep up with inflation and threats from Russia and China in particular.
Luria fits into the camp that thinks more money is needed but refuses to put a specific budget target on the field.
“I don’t have a specific dollar amount in mind. I would say that to be happy, I need to see a significant increase in shipbuilding engagement,” said Luria. “I think we have to build whatever we can build with the industrial capacity that we have.”
Among the ideas she floated were increasing the DDG purchase from 10 to 15 and accelerating construction of the Navy’s new frigate design.