When a branch of the US military starts rolling out a new pet project, it is rarely either cost effective or literally effective. The US Navy’s littoral combat ship (LCS) program is really underscoring that recently, with more ships breaking at seemingly random, meaning four nearly brand new ships have broken down in less than a year.
Just yesterday, the Navy discussed problems with its first LCS, the USS Freedom, which inexplicably was put out of commission back in July when seawater got into the engine and the oil system and started rusting things out. Limping back to home port, the USS Freedom now needs an engine replaced outright, with no timetable for the fix, or the cost.
Today, officials reported the USS Coronado, which only got commissioned back in 2014, has suffered an unspecified “engine casualty” and is struggling back to Pearl Harbor for repairs. It had just left Pearl Harbor on Friday.
That makes four LCS ships that have broken down in the past year, which is a pretty disastrous track record considering that even the oldest ship, the USS Freedom, was commissioned in late 2008, and the US only had a total of six active duty LCS ships in total.
The LCS is a product of the US Navy’s efforts, in the wake of the Cold War, to shift its priorities away from having more large capital ships than the Soviet Union toward just having a lot of stuff that floats about in the water, so they could have a nominal presence more or less anywhere.
The idea was that the LCS would be a low-cost, reliable ship for limited missions around coastlines, but the reality is that upkeep on the ships has been dramatically higher than initial estimates, and an LCS ends up costing more than a larger, and more combat-ready ship like a frigate.
Still, with several billion dollars sunk into the plan and the Navy’s priorities still squarely on quantity over quality, the LCS fleet is being constructed in earnest, even as the few already completed stumble back into the docks, because they didn’t do so great on the reliability front either.