THE PENTAGON – The nine Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships currently in Navy service – the youngest of which commissioned in 2020 – have been marked for disposal as part of the Department of Defense’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget proposal, USNI News has learned.
The ships – USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), USS Milwaukee (LCS-5), USS Detroit (LCS-7), USS Little Rock (LCS-9), USS Sioux City (LCS-11), USS Wichita (LCS-13), USS Billings (LCS-15) and USS St. Louis (LCS-19) – are part of the 24 ships the service has chosen to decommission in FY 2023 for an estimated $3.6 billion in savings.
In the Navy’s last plan for the Littoral Combat Ship program, the Freedom-class ships had been tapped to shoulder the anti-submarine warfare role with the LCS ASW mission package. The key component was a towed variable depth low-frequency active sonar that the Navy doesn’t have in the fleet. The promise behind the VDS was to give the Navy more tools to find the more sophisticated Russian submarines that have been entering service in the last several years.
While it showed promise in early testing, the Raytheon-built AN/SQS-62 VDS suffered stability problems and had towing issues with the Freedom-class, several Navy officials have told USNI News. As a result of the poor performance, the Navy announced it had terminated the mission module on Monday.
A Raytheon spokesperson referred all questions on the sonar to the Navy when contacted by USNI News on Tuesday.
With no mission module and unexpected costs for the repair to a complex combining gear for the Freedom-class ships, Navy officials said it wasn’t worth keeping the ships in commission.
“As we look across LCS, this is a place where we have identified that there are real costs, especially – for the Freedom-class to be able to make some of the repairs that are needed on those as we measure that against what is the best contribution to the capabilities that we need,” Meredith Berger, who is performing the duties of Under Secretary of the Navy, said on Monday.
In the same briefing, Navy budget chief Rear Adm. John Gumbleton said the ASW mission would be a major part of the emerging Constellation-class (FFG-62) frigate program.
“This is about opportunity cost. ASW mission, that went away. Roughly $50 million a year support cost for these vessels and an opportunity to reinvest $1.8 billion when this ASW mission sets [are] going to be taken up by the frigate, of which we’re buying the fourth of the line in this budget request,” he said. “It speaks to a return on investment to get at the lethality we need for our near-peer competitor.”
The Navy planned to field the VDS Raytheon sonar on the frigates, but the service now intends to use Thales’ CAPTAS-4, a Navy official confirmed to USNI News on Tuesday.
CAPTAS-4 is widely in use by “anti-submarine warfare (ASW) frigates such as the Royal Navy Type 23 and Type 26 frigates, the French Navy FREMM and FDI frigates, the Italian FREMMs, the Spanish F110 frigates, and the Chilean Type 23,” reported Naval News.
The Navy intends to take the remaining six Freedom-class ships under construction and fit them with a variation of the surface warfare mission package for missions in U.S. Central and Southern commands, a service official told USNI News.
The move from the Pentagon to shed the Freedom-class ships comes days after Congress officially rejected the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2022 proposal to decommission Fort Worth, Detroit and Little Rock as part of the FY 2022 defense budget.
Freedom-class shipbuilder Lockheed Martin told USNI News on Tuesday, “we look forward to working with the administration and the Congress as the President’s Fiscal Year 23 budget receives full consideration in the months ahead.”