Does anyone remember those coastal combat ships that the US Navy started developing in 2001? Yes, these small marine vessels were originally planning to be more agile to protect larger ships and neighboring landmasses located in littoral areas of the sea.
No? Don’t you remember? Well, that’s probably because the US Navy literally called them floating garbage piles. If you remember it, it’s either that you served on one of them, or that you heard of its infamous cases of problems that plague ships.
Anyway, let’s take a look at how we got here and find out if these gunships have improved.
The beginning of the end
The beginning of the end was basically the beginning of the program. But hey, the end has to start somewhere, right? US Navy cruisers and destroyers were designed specifically for high seas warfare during the Cold War.
For our US Navy veterans, you may remember when former President Truman sent you to the Philippines with the US Seventh Fleet, specifically to Subic Bay, or your adventures along the peninsula Korea and its water bodies. Anyway, you will remember that your ships were intended for endurance at sea and naval combat at distant distances. Then the Navy decided it couldn’t risk these ships close to shore or in constricted bodies of water (Littorials) and needed to build ships that could.
The US Navy wanted to develop a combat ship smaller than a frigate but bigger than a patrol boat to ply these waters. And to clear mines, and lay mines, and do anti-submarine warfare, and conduct special ops missions, and, and, and. So what was originally a good idea to build a small fighter for one purpose, turned into about eight ideas. While there, the Navy would launch the Destroyer for the 21st Century Project or DD-21. This was part of the Surface Combatant for the 21st Century Research and Development Project in 1994 which would eventually produce the Zumwalt-class destroyer. A ship that looks like it finished building a Lego warship and then realized it forgot to put some weapons in it. Most of the advantages discussed in the Zumwalt class are low fuel consumption and small crew size. All of this saves the Navy and taxpayers money, but what are we doing? Build ships that save money? Or do we build ships that are tough, deadly, and able to sail through the gray mist and sail for long periods of time.
Another idea in the project was the retired Cpt. Wayne Hughes and Vice Admiral Art Cebrowski’s modified Streetfighter concept, a smaller but heavier gunship that could be scrapped if it took heavy damage. Essentially, it was your disposable camera, but a boat version you could throw away once you were done with it. Needless to say, it was deemed useless and abandoned.
But Cebrowski wasn’t done. He had been chosen to lead the Office of Force Transformation under Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, in 2001. During this time, the DD-21 was canceled and replaced for political reasons (because the program was identified with the Clinton administration). However, several reports indicated that there was a series of debates within the United States Navy, particularly over the Streetfighter concept which had been proposed earlier by Hughes and Cebrowski. It was also said to be well over budget and that some of the promised high-tech systems that were supposed to go into the ship were nowhere near ready for operation at sea. With the program cancelled, the DD- 21 became the DD(X) under the Future Surface Combatant Program (FSC) and became the Zumwalt-class destroyer. The re-proposed Streetfighter concept eventually became the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
That’s how we came to the next wet and hot mess the Navy decided to jump into with both feet. Admiral Vernon Clark, who was now in charge of the program, said the LCS was the most transformational effort he had done and even pushed for its funding, where the US Navy secured $15 billion for the To do. Initially, the US Navy wanted the ship to be developed with multiple functions: anti-small ship warfare, anti-drug and anti-piracy patrols, submarine hunting, mine hunting and a transport ship for forces. specials. Further conceptualization and planning has begun. With that, they ditched the idea that it would be disposable and enlarged it so it could sail the Pacific Ocean, thus not really making it a coastal ship after all. As the roles piled up, the costs also increased. What was once a $90 million coastal vessel was now a portly $220 million ship by estimates at the time.
Eventually, Lockheed Martin in 2004 would submit proposals against General Dynamics and Raytheon, which Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics would win. The USS Freedom (LCS-1) and USS Independence (LCS-2) would be manufactured in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The USS Freedom is a high-speed monohull ship designed by Lockheed Martin, and the USS Independence is a General Dynamics trimaran.
As of February 2022, there were 28 ships in active service, with several under construction. These LCS are divided into Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 1 (LCSRON ONE) in San Diego and Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 2 (LCSRON TWO) based in Mayport, Florida.
Why is it awful?
First, there are organizational problems from the start. Transfers of command and ship reorganization efforts made it difficult to develop and maintain littoral ships. Also, during development, they weren’t sure where to put the ship and what it would eventually be used for. Later, the U.S. Navy soon realized that it could not fulfill all of these roles with a small ship designed to do the job of the larger ships it was to replace, reigniting debates about the true usefulness of this vessel.
These development issues would eventually surface when the Pentagon conducted a performance review of the LCS fleet. He reported that the LCS was not at all survivable in high intensity combat, he was described as having “analogous” abilities, which limited his effectiveness. Along with these problems, another set of deficiencies such as radar system deficiencies, artillery control deficiencies, anti-ship missile deficiencies, engine problems and self-defense deficiencies emerged, which literally rendered her semi-useless as a gunship designed to deter anti-shipping vessels. missiles and it is meant to operate independently in high-risk environments from larger fleet units. Its lack of defensive abilities also made it a sitting duck for enemy air and sea attacks. Thus, to defend the LCS in littoral waters, traditional destroyers and frigates should accompany them to cover them.
It was said that a single hit could render it incapacitated for combat, losing propulsion, leaving it vulnerable to other forms of damage at sea. So in practice this would be the kind of disposable ship originally envisioned but rejected by the Navy , but he ended up getting what he didn’t really want in the LCS anyway after huge expense.
How bad was that? The Navy ended construction of new LCS ships; it’s so bad. In nearly 2 decades of continuous development, the US government reduced its initial acquisition of the LCS from 55 to 35. Instead, it announced that it would spend the money on 20 new missile frigates.
In addition to being under maintenance all the time, each LCS also costs three times as much as originally planned. It may be good on gas and have small crews, but you have to pay a Rolls Royce price to get Toyota Prius-like performance.
“Initially, the Navy was aiming for each ship to cost $220 million, but the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that procurement costs for the first 32 ships are currently around $21 billion, or about $655 million per ship, almost triple what they were supposed to cost. The program’s three mission packages, according to the latest select acquisition report, add approximately $7.6 billion,” said the Government Surveillance Projectt in 2016.
Amid the ship’s total cost, it lacked the combat survivability that any Navy ship needed. Lethality issues were also later discovered, and it had numerous technical failures in all of its three mission modules. In 2018, the Navy announced that it would be discontinuing the entire Multi-Mission Interchangeable Mission Module altogether.
According to the US Navy website, there are currently 9 LCS Freedom variants and 13 LCS Independence variants. With most of them needing a myriad of maintenance work amid all the overhaul programs it has undertaken, I guess it’s safe to say it’s been a tough life for the LCS. Perhaps Tyler Rogoway from The War Zone described the state of the ship accurately and succinctly. The LCS does not mean littoral combat ship; rather, it meant “shitty little boat”.
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