Back in the early 200s, the US Navy began a program to build a new class of Littoral Combat Ships, LCS, which were intended to be fast, agile and, at least by US Navy standards, relatively inexpensive, which could operate effectively in coastal waters around the world. Early on, the ships were given the nickname, “Little Crappy Ships” by some of the Navy’s blue water sailors. At the time, the nickname seemed a touch unfair. Now, faced with significant budget overruns and questions of whether the ships will ever be capable of performing their assigned missions, nickname seems prophetic.
The Navy, either ambitiously or foolhardily, decided to develop two separate designs for the Littoral Combat Ships — a trimaran SWATH hull form and a more conventional hull design. Both versions have had significant design problems related to hull cracking and corrosion, and their original budgeted costs have doubled.
So far, the LCS have been very unreliable. The Navy has six of the small ships in service and between them, they have completely only two foreign deployments in seven years. This month, USS Milwaukee, the brand-new LCS 6, broke down while sailing from a Wisconsin shipyard to Florida and had to be towed to a base in Virginia for repairs. In 2013, we posted about the first LCS, USS Freedom, which broke down repeatedly on its first deployment to Singapore. The USS Freedom blacked out three times in just the transit between Hawaii and Guam.
In addition to reliability, because the LCS are lightly built and lightly armed, there are serious questions as to the both the survivability and lethality of the ships. In a report by the Government Accounting Office, released last Friday, the GAO said the LCS became less lethal and survivable after the Navy lowered the ship’s design requirements and removed a number of features. The office recommended that Congress delay the funding for LCS until the Navy completes additional testing, analysis, and planning for the ships.
Last week, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ordered the Navy to cut the number of Littoral Combat Ships to be built from 52 ships to 40. He also directed them to select a single shipbuilder and to choose a single design for the class as part of its fiscal year 2017 budget.
The only question is whether the remaining 34 ships beyond the six LCS already delivered is a waste of taxpayers money. Will we be getting simply more “Little Crappy Ships?”