The Pentagon has taken heat lately for excess spending. President-elect Trump has blasted the cost projections for the F-35 program. The $13 billion USS Gerald Ford is such bad shape that experts in the Navy are suggesting it should be scrapped rather than fixed. And now critics are taking aim at a whole class of ships that testing shows won’t stand up to combat.
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The Littoral Combat Ship program was meant to produce light, fast ships capable of rapid response. The problem is that they are also dependent on American domination of the seas. These boats are light on armor, and they’re not equipped with the weaponry needed to engage many of our enemies.
The USS Gabrielle Giffords is the latest Littoral in the Navy’s fleet. Second Lady Jill Biden christened Giffords saying, “Wherever the USS Gabrielle Giffords travels—the world will know it is unrelenting, it is unstoppable, and it is the full definition of a patriotism that defines the greatest, most powerful country in the world.”
Critics, though, aren’t convinced that her statement is accurate.
Many ships in this class are armed with deck guns that can reach out 20 miles; the guns on the USS Gifford have a range of only 10 miles.
J. Michael Gilmore, Pentagon director of Operational Test and Evaluation, was critical of the Littoral ships’ capabilities in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“The Navy’s own requirements show that the only — the only thing the Navy expects, if it’s hit by one of those kinds of threats, is for it to be able to exit the battle area and or provide for an orderly abandon ship,” he said.
In other words, the boats are designed to run away. If they are hit, they’re easy to escape.
“A hit on one of these ships is going to be a real problem–if you can keep it out of harm’s way? OK,” Gilmore said.
“In Total Ship Survivability trials that we did, the crews did their best, but in almost every incidence, there was major damage to the ship and the combat capability was fully lost, and in some instances the ship would have been lost.”
Sen. John McCain referred to the LCS class as an “alleged warship.” He feels like the entire program was rushed through.
“For some reason, Navy leaders prioritized deploying a ship with no capability over completing necessary mission package testing,” he said. “In other words, the taxpayers have paid for—and are still paying for—26 ships that have demonstrated next-to-no combat capability,” he added. “This is unacceptable.”
Those who support the design of these ships say that the critics are missing the point. The Littoral ships were meant to be delivery vehicles for drones. They’re aircraft carriers that can are faster than any other ships in the fleet, and not meant for direct combat. That said, the drones that were originally envisioned for use with the program are not yet in service. The USS Gabrielle Giffords and the other Littorals are then relegated to more traditional roles–roles for which they aren’t qualified for.