Time to Sink the Littoral Combat Ship | Citizens Against Government Waste

Time to Sink the Littoral Combat Ship

The WasteWatcher

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has earned its nickname honestly. 

Dubbed by some inside the Navy as the Little Crappy Ship, the LCS has been a disaster since its inception, with problems that include a vaguely defined mission, a lack of firepower and survivability, and design flaws leading to cracks in the hull and corrosion.

The latest setback surfaced on January 19, 2021, when the Department of Defense (DOD) announced that it had halted deliveries of the Freedom-class LCS because of a transmission design flaw.  A Defense News article published on the same date cited a defect in the ship’s combining gear, “a complex transmission that transmits power generated by the ship’s engines to its waterjet propulsion system.”  The Navy believes that the contractor, Lockheed Martin, is responsible for paying for repairs, which will likely take months for each ship.

Freedom-class LCS transmission issues are nothing new.  In 2015, the maiden voyage of the LCS Milwaukee was cut short when the transmission broke down and the vessel required a tow to reach port.

The many and varied problems in the LCS program strongly indicate that it may be time to pull the plug.  Such issues have caused lengthy delays.  A June 2018 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report noted that “deliveries of almost all LCS under contract have been delayed by several months, and, in some cases, a year or longer.” 

The program has become so troubled that the Pentagon took active measures to undermine the bad press.  According to a March 2017 GAO report, the DOD Office of Prepublication and Security Review, which is charged with reviewing information to be released to the public, blocked critical information regarding cost growth in the LCS program.

As is so often the case with deeply flawed DOD programs, the justification for additional LCS funding can be boiled down to a desire to protect jobs.  In a March 20, 2018 HASC hearing, then-HASC member Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), whose former district hosts the Austal USA shipyard that builds one of the two versions of the LCS, reproached then-Navy Secretary Richard Spencer for requesting only one LCS in fiscal year 2019.  Rep. Byrne stated in the hearing, “Unfortunately, your acquisition plan for small surface combatants fails to provide for an enduring industrial base.  In fact, it will erode the industrial base for those ships,” and reducing the program to one annual ship will result in “thousands of shipyard workers” being laid off. 

The LCS as a jobs program remains the sole possible argument for its continued existence.  Since parochial politics should never drive security spending, the time has come to eliminate the LCS.