US Navy chief defends plan to scrap struggling warships even though some are less than 3 years old


Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that the anti-submarine ships could not accomplish their primary mission.

“I refuse to put an extra dollar against a system that wouldn’t be able to keep up with a high-end submarine in today’s environment,” Gilday told the committee. He said the main reason for the early retirement was that the ships’ anti-submarine warfare system “didn’t technically work”. Decommissioning the ships would save the Navy about $391 million, according to the service’s proposed FY23 budget.

But that only recoups a fraction of the cost of the nine littoral combat ships, which totaled about $3.2 billion.

The USS Indianapolis, USS Billings and USS Wichita all entered service in 2019, meaning the Navy plans to decommission ships that are only a fraction of the way to their expected lifespan. . The Navy also plans to retire six other littoral combat ships, all of the single-hull Freedom variant, as opposed to the trimaran Independence variant. Both variants can reach speeds of over 40 knots.

Under a 2016 Navy plan, the Freedom-class variants were all ported to Mayport, Florida primarily for use in Atlantic Ocean operations. The Independence-class variants were home-ported to San Diego and intended primarily for operations in the Pacific.

The decision amounts to an embarrassing admission that some of the Navy’s newest ships are not suited for modern warfare.

Despite the Navy’s plans to scrap the warships, Congress has the final say on the military budget and has backed down from previous demands to decommission the ships. Reducing the number of warships may be even more difficult as lawmakers focus on the growing size of China’s navy and the gap between the US and Chinese fleets.

Last August, Vice President Kamala Harris visited the USS Tulsa, one of the Independence-class ships, while operating out of Singapore. She touted the Navy’s mission to “help secure peace and security, freedom of trade and commerce, freedom of navigation” and the ship’s role in countering an increasingly assertive China in the western Pacific Ocean.

But the beleaguered littoral combat ships faced ongoing problems, including repeated breakdowns and questions about their limited armament.

The ships were hailed as part of the US deterrent against China as they were designed to operate in shallow waters like the South China Sea. But the dismantling of so many in a year seems to be an acknowledgment that expensive surface combatants have failed to live up to expectations.

“We can’t use them”

Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said: “We can’t use them, firstly because they’re not ready to do anything. Secondly, when they are, they crumble. still.”

“They’re incredibly expensive and they don’t have the capabilities that we expected. So regardless of their age, that’s a lot of money to spend to get to next to nothing,” the state Democrat continued. Washington.

Republican Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined in the criticism of the Navy.

“With China’s Navy steadily climbing to 460 ships by 2030, direct mistakes in Navy shipbuilding, like the Littoral Combat Ship, must stop. Programs that can expand and grow our fleet must be the priority” , Inhofe said. tweeted Wednesday.

Many of the myriad problems facing the coastal combat ship program stem from a lack of mission focus during the design process, said Emma Salisbury, a University of London researcher specializing in US military weapons manufacturers. .

“The LCS was basically counted on to solve all the Navy’s problems at once and it will all be wonderful,” Salisbury told CNN with a note of irony. The ships’ missions included surface warfare, mine countermeasures, and anti-submarine warfare, based on a modular design meant to allow the Navy to customize the ship for the role.

“It was basically this magic design that would solve everything,” Salisbury said. “So that was the problem – because he had all those options, he never did very well with them.”

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby defended the program and the ships during a press briefing in mid-April, saying “they served a purpose.”

Yet even as the Navy plans to scrap nine of the Freedom variant ships, the newest vessel in the class was just christened last weekend. The USS Beloit marked the milestone with members of Congress and Navy officials in attendance, as well as the ceremonial breaking of a wine bottle through the bow.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said in a statement that the ship would be “ready to respond to any mission, where and when needed.”

The Independence variant of the LCS faced its own issues. The Navy has identified structural cracks on six of those ships, requiring updates to inspection procedures and an overhaul of affected areas, according to a statement from Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Alan Baribreau. The cracks, first reported by the Navy Timeswere initially discovered at the end of 2019 in areas of high stress on the ship’s structure.

“The issue has been identified following routine quality assurance checks and does not pose a safety risk to seafarers on board the vessels. Similarly, the issue does not pose a safety risk to the affected vessels and does not nor does it impede the ability to start and execute missions,” Baribeau said.

The Navy plans to retire two of these Independence-class ships in fiscal year 2024.

At the same time, the navy is working to develop a new class of ships more suited to the challenges of the rapidly expanding Chinese military and the threat posed by Russia. These ships would have “more capability than the LCS” for potential future combat, Kirby said.


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