Despite growing questions concerning cost overruns and survivability in conflict, the U.S. Navy plans to send 11 littoral combat ships (LCS) to the Pacific region by 2022, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations, Jonathan Greenert, said this week, Xinhua and Jane’s reported.
Speaking at the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (IMDEX) in Singapore on Tuesday, Greenert told reporters that the Navy ultimately hopes to deploy four LCS to Singapore by 2022, with the remaining seven heading to Sasebo, Japan, where they will replace the mine countermeasures ships currently stationed there.
The LCS is a fast, maneuverable, and multi-mission surface ship that is designed most immediately to enable the U.S. Navy to operate a shallow vessel in coastal waters to deal with a number of different emerging asymmetric threats, including anti-access challenges.
The Navy first ordered LCS in 2004 and under the most recent 30-year shipbuilding plan will ultimately procure 52 vessels, down from the 82 it planned to purchase in early 2005. They come in the Freedom variant and Independence variant, which are being built by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, respectively.
The first LCS, the USS Freedom (LCS 1), left its home port in San Diego in March of this year and reached Singapore in the middle of last month to begin an eight-month deployment, its maiden overseas voyage. It was expected to participate in the IMDEX conference this week.
At the conference Greenert said that nations in the region had been impressed with the USS Freedom’s capabilities. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin used IMDEX to pitch a multi-mission ship similar to the LCS to Southeast Asian nations, including Singapore.
Inside the U.S., however, the LCS program has lately come under increasing scrutiny. An internal U.S. Navy report written last year but leaked to the press this month questioned whether it was too lightly armed and manned to fulfill its declared missions. A report by Bloomberg News, which obtained a copy of the report, said:
“This review highlights the gap between ship capabilities and the missions the Navy will need LCS to execute. Failure to adequately address LCS requirements and capabilities will result in a large number of ships that are ill-suited to execute” the warfighting needs of regional commanders.
The report went on to note that the ship’s width may prevent it from utilizing certain ports and judged the decision to procure two LCS variants as creating unnecessary logistical and maintenance burdens.
Compounding the ship’s troubles, many of the planned ships are now running between eight and thirteen months behind schedule. This revelation has prompted criticism from some members of Congress, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ). At a Congressional hearing earlier this month, Sen. McCain noted: “The Navy plans for the Littoral Combat Ship to comprise over one-third of the nation’s total surface combatant fleet by 2028, and yet the LCS has not demonstrated to date any adequate performance of assigned missions…. We need to fix it, or find something else quickly.”
Navy officials have continued to defend the LCS, however. Speaking on board the USS Freedom on Saturday, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said the program had started out as a mess but has since become one of the Navy’s best performing programs.
Calling LCS “an incredibly capable ship,” Mabus said that the ships are “going to be one of the most important crucial platforms in the United States Navy in the future.”