The US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships seem riddled with problems. What will Washington decide to do with it in the long term? There are options, some calling for removing them: The US Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has long been seen as a platform looking for a problem rather than dealing with one, which is why less than fifteen years after entering service, the first two LCS warships have already been retired.
There are now reports that if the US Navy gets its way, more ships could see their careers cut short.
It’s not just a lack of a clear mission that has been at fault, however.
LCS ships have been prone to breakdowns, and it now appears that part of the LCS fleet is suffering from structural flaws that have even led to cracks in the hulls of several ships. These flaws have even limited the speed and sea states in which ships can safely operate.
The US Navy only recently revealed that the cracks impacted the Independence-class variant of the LCS, but it has not yet addressed the class-wide repercussions of the actual flaws. The ships that suffer from these issues have also not been disclosed.
However, according to the documents obtained by Navy Times, there have been warnings that the cracks could develop if ships travel at more than 15 knots in seas with maximum heights of around eight feet. This inspires little confidence in the LCS, which according to some accounts have already earned the nickname: “Shitty little shipsfrom some US Navy sailors. Now, given the latest status, perhaps “Little Cracking Ships” is a much more appropriate moniker.
The future of the LCS?
This revelation of cracking warships follows the US Navy’s attempt to solve a class-wide transmission problem in the Freedom-LCS class variant. This problem was considered so serious that some Navy leaders have already sought to seek to decommission the entire LCS fleet of the Freedom-to classify. Such a move would be years ahead of the expected end of their planned life – many only entering service in the last few years.
Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Alan Baribeau said via a statement to the Navy Times that the service first identified “cracks in the highest stress areas of the structure” on the Independence-class ships late 2019 after issue became apparent on USS coronado (LCS-4), the second ship of the class. It was only commissioned five years earlier in 2014.
However, the problem apparently does not pose a safety risk to seafarers on board ships.
Since the discovery of the problem, Austral USA, the prime contractor who built the Independence-class LCS, has incorporated a “revised configuration” into hulls still under construction or under warranty, while the US Navy is (or will be) processing and repairing affected in-service vessels, according to Baribeau.
“Analysis of the bow structure with the combined vertical and lateral loads did not identify any hot spots below the waterline, and this specific detail does not occur below the waterline,” Baribeau added. “The modification involves replacing the deck plate and hull plate with thicker material, among other actions.”
The exact nature of the repairs could still be quite extensive and not solve all the problems, experts have warned.
“Removing the deck plate and the shell plate cannot be done without high availability and, if nothing else, it will add to the weight of the ship, likely slowing it down,” said Bradley Martin, a retired surface warfare officer who has spent two-thirds of his 30-year career at sea, and is now director of Rand’s National Security Supply Chain Institute. “It really looks like a huge, bad deal for this class of ship.”
It may be time to “deep six” the LCS once and for all.
Today’s editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He writes regularly on military hardware and is the author of several books on military headgear, including A gallery of military hairstyles, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing author for Forbes.