The Navy Now Wants To Retire The First Four Of Its Troublesome Littoral Combat Ships

It was something many of us saw as a near-certain eventuality, the Navy has formally announced that it wants to retire its first four Littoral Combat Ships. Split evenly across both the Freedom and Independence classes of the failed Littoral Combat Ship concept, the oldest of the vessels was commissioned just 12 years ago, the youngest a mere six years ago. Yes, you read that right—six years ago! The troublesome fleet within a fleet has been serving as a training and test force, a dubious role from the start that the Navy says isn’t even needed anymore. Giving up on the vessels as front line ships began a few years ago as part of a restructuring plan that was initiated as the program became increasingly mired in technological and logistical turmoil. 

It can’t be overstated just how stunning an admission this is for a service that is desperately trying to find a way to reach its 355 ship fleet goal in the coming years. Retiring four youthful vessels does not vibe with this strategy, at least on paper. It serves as a clear indication of just how bad the first four of these vessels truly are and it serves as another reminder of how the Navy is coming to terms with the LCS debacle after years of being in denial. 

The news of the planned divestiture came as part of the Pentagon’s briefings on the department’s 2021 Fiscal Year budget request. The justification behind the move reads as such in the Navy’s budget highlights briefing book:

Navy decommission the first four LCS ships. These ships have been test articles and training assets, and were key in developing the operational concepts leading to the current deployment of LCS ships today. But cancelling their modernization allows us to prioritize lethality and survivability where we need it and in the mission packages assigned ships that will fill the roles of Surface Warfare (SUW), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), and Mine Countermeasures (MCM) going forward…

I have set up a clip in which you can watch Rear Admiral Randy Crites’ comments on what is bound to be a very controversial new plan to flush LCS-1 through LCS-4 out of the fleet by clicking here.

LCS-2 and LCS-1. , USN

Now that the Navy is admitting that it isn’t even worth keeping the four ships, which are uniquely configured and problem-prone, around for training and experimentation duties, where they will end up is anyone’s guess. At this point, they could be mothballed, picked for parts, and eventually meet the scrapper’s torch. On the other hand, maybe an ally will be willing to take one or two of them on for a very good price. A lot of you are probably saying “give them to the Coast Guard!” I would bet heavily that the Coast Guard doesn’t want them and that service is already cash-strapped as it is. Adding these anchors to their bottom line would be a move in the wrong direction. 

Using one for a SINKEX drill would be quite interesting as both types’ survivability has long been in question, especially due to the widespread use of aluminum in their construction and their overall lower design standards than their more hardy dock mates. Seeing what real weaponry does to either of the designs could be beneficial, but doing so may be a bit too ironic and damning of a pill for the Navy swallow.

Keep in mind that Congress still has to approve this remarkably frank choice by the Navy. We will keep you informed as more information on the early demise of these four vessels that have sucked up billions of dollars becomes available. 

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler’s passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.