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The Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships, the Navy’s contribution to the War on Terror, were a total disaster. We should all be concerned about this, as it may mean higher taxes or even contribute to defeat in a future naval war.
Some may remember the Freedom-class Littoral combat ship USS Littlerock which was commissioned in Buffalo in December 2017. A Littoral combat ship as defined by the Navy “is a fast, agile, mission-driven platform designed to operate in coastal environments, combating 21st century coastal threats. The LCS is capable of supporting forward presence, maritime security, maritime control and deterrence. The Navy once believed this description.
Now the Little Rock and eight other ships of her class currently in active service will be decommissioned in fiscal year 2023. This means the ships will be decommissioned, mothballed and placed in the reserve fleet in certain secluded moorings. returned to service when needed or more likely to be scrapped in a few years.
Design and financing of the Freedom class began shortly after the invasion of Iraq and occupation of Afghanistan. Designed to be maneuverable and reach speeds of over 40 knots, the Navy estimated that these vessels would be able to operate successfully and efficiently in the shallow coastal waters where terrorists operate.
The Freedom class was at the cutting edge. To achieve their high speed, the ships each have four engines consisting of two diesel engines and two gas turbine engines which drive a water jet propulsion system instead of screw propellers.
From the start, the Freedom-class LCS failed to live up to expectations. The most serious problem was with the propulsion system’s combination gear, a transmission that combines the ship’s diesel engines with its gas turbines to produce additional power. Failures in this system resulted in several ships of the class losing propulsion at sea, requiring them to be towed to port.
This issue led to the decommissioning of Freedom, the class’s lead ship, in September 2021, followed by plans, later delayed, to decommission Forth Worth, Milwaukee, Detroit and Little Rock in fiscal year 2022. , based on the difficulty and high cost of repairing suit equipment, the decision was made to decommission the aforementioned ships along with five other ships of the class, including Sioux City, Wichita, the Billings, the Indianapolis and the St. Louis in fiscal year 2023. None of these ships have even reached halfway through their estimated 25-year lifespan.
The class suffered from other problems. An important mission of the Freedom class was to have been in the anti-submarine role. However, the key component of this system, developed by Raytheon, was a “towed variable-depth low-frequency active sonar.” Unfortunately, this system developed stability issues and towing issues, leading the Navy to announce that the system had been phased out.
Additionally, in announcing the decommissioning of the first nine Freedom-class ships, the Navy said the ships “didn’t bring enough lethality to the fight” and would be shot down by warships developed by Russia and China. In other words, the ships were designed without enough firepower to survive and it would cost too much to arm them properly.
This all happened at a time when the US is in a race with China to beef up the navy. China is winning this race. Currently, the Chinese fleet consists of 355 ships and plans to add 65 more in four years. By 2030, the Chinese fleet is expected to reach 460 ships.
By comparison, the US Navy now consists of 297 ships. In 2018, Congress passed legislation requiring the Navy to reach a fleet of 355 ships. “as soon as possible,” whatever that means. Since the law was passed, the number of ships in the fleet has decreased every year. In FY2023, nine new vessels will be added but 24 will be retired for a net loss of 15 vessels. Was the Expansion Act just a way for Congress to silence critics?
The myriad of problems with the Freedom class makes me wonder how competent the designers of our navy’s ships are. Why have so many untested systems been incorporated? Was it the result of an effort to include all the latest bells and whistles, even if they are untested?
Finally, in a recent appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral Mike Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, said the Navy is “…sized to fight one adversary and keep a second adversary under control, but in terms of two all-out conflicts, we’re not sized for that.”
As someone who has studied naval affairs much of my life, this is a shocking statement because for 80 years the Navy was designed as a “two ocean navies” able to fight two wars at the same time.
Building a navy capable of fighting two wars will require the full attention of Congress to ensure the navy has what it needs, but also to use its oversight powers to ensure the navy does not waste its assets on ships that have questionable long-term effects. value to its mission and on ships that are so advanced that unforeseen problems can arise that are too costly to adequately correct.
Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a resident of Silver Creek. Send your comments to [email protected]