US Navy intends to decommission some of its newest warships

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Apr 9, 2022, 7:33:33 PMApr 9
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US Navy intends to decommission some of its newest warships

The Navy wants to scrap 24 ships total as part of its cost-cutting
needed to maintain the existing fleet
Associated Press

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The Navy that once wanted smaller, speedy warships to chase down pirates
has made a speedy pivot to Russia and China – and many of those recently
built ships could be retired.

The U.S. Navy wants to decommission nine ships in the Freedom-class of
littoral combat ships – warships that cost about $4.5 billion to build.

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The Navy contends in its budget proposal that the move would free up $50
million per ship annually for other priorities. But it would also reduce
the size of the fleet that’s already surpassed by China in sheer
numbers, something that could cause members of Congress to balk.

Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, defended the proposal that
emphasizes long-range weapons and modern warships, while shedding other
ships ill-equipped to face current threats.

The USS Detroit, a Freedom-class of littoral combat ship, arrives Oct.
14, 2016, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

"We need a ready, capable, lethal force more than we need a bigger force
that’s less ready, less lethal and less capable," he said Monday at the
Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space symposium in Maryland.

All told, the Navy wants to scrap 24 ships, including five cruisers and
a pair of Los Angeles-class submarines, as part of its cost-cutting
needed to maintain the existing fleet and build modern warships. Those
cuts surpass the proposed nine ships to be built.

Most of them are older vessels. However, the littoral combat ships that
are targeted are young. The oldest of them is 10 years old.

The littoral combat ship program was announced after the Sept. 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks. The ships topped 50 mph (80 kph) – fast enough to
chase down pirates – and were highly maneuverable, even in shallow
water, thanks to steerable waterjets instead of propellers.

The ships were supposed to be made versatile through plug-and-play
mission modules for surface combat, mine-sweeping operations or
anti-submarine warfare. But those mission modules were beset by
problems, and the anti-submarine capability was canceled in the new budget.

Crew members of the USS Sioux City, a Freedom-class of littoral combat
ship, gather before the ship's commissioning ceremony on Nov. 17, 2018,
at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. (AP Photo/Patrick
Semansky, File)

And what about that speed? The fastest ship can’t outrun missiles, and
firing up those marine turbines for an extra burst of speed turned the
ships into gas guzzlers, analysts said. Early versions also were
criticized as too lightly armed and armored to survive combat.

The speedy Freedom-class ships proposed for decommissioning feature a
traditional steel hull. That entire class of ships suffers from a
propulsion defect that will be costly to repair. The Navy proposes
keeping a second variant, the aluminum Independence class.

U.S. Senate Armed Services Chair Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said the program
was plagued by troubles from the start, and that "moving forward the
Navy must avoid similar acquisition disasters."

U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia, was more blunt, tweeting that it
"sucks" to be decommissioning so many ships, especially newer ones.

"The Navy owes a public apology to American taxpayers for wasting tens
of billions of dollars on ships they now say serve no purpose," she said.

A sailor salutes from the USS Sioux City during the ship's commissioning
ceremony, Nov. 17, 2018, in Annapolis, Maryland. (AP Photo/Patrick
Semansky, File)

Some detractors proclaimed littoral combat ships to be the Navy’s
"Little Crappy Ship," but that’s not fair, said defense analyst Loren
Thompson.

"It’s not a little crappy ship. It does what it was supposed to do. What
it was supposed to do isn’t enough for the kind of threats that we face
today," said Thompson, from the Lexington Institute.

In the Navy’s defense, threats shifted swiftly from the Cold War to the
war on terror to the current Great Power Competition in which Russia and
China are asserting themselves, he said.

In the end, the Navy may be content with smaller numbers of
Freedom-class ships for maritime security and small surface combatant
operations, said Bryan Clark, defense analyst at the Hudson Institute.

Congress must sign off on the Navy’s proposal to decommission ships
ahead of their projected service life.


The House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday grilled Defense Secretary
Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, on the proposal.

The USS Milwaukee, a Freedom-class of littoral combat ship, cruises in
the Atlantic Ocean on June 27, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd
Class Anderson W. Branch/U.S. Navy via AP, File)

U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., suggested the ship cuts were "grossly
irresponsible" when the U.S. Navy has dipped from 318 ships to 297,
while the Chinese fleet has grown from 210 to 360 ships over the past
two decades.

Milley said it’s important to focus on the Navy’s capabilities rather
than the size of its fleet.

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"I would bias toward capability rather than just sheer numbers," he said.
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