The Littoral Combat Ship: The Warship That Can’t Go to War
August 26, 2014 | Policy Brief
By Jacob Marx
When it was first conceived in the early 2000s, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) was envisioned as the “low end backbone of the future U.S. surface combat fleet.” As other programs in the future fleet were scaled back, the expectations for the LCS changed dramatically. By 2009, it was being sold as an adaptable, cost-effective option for maintaining surface strength in the open sea. The LCS is the Navy’s response to perceived changes in naval warfare and falling budgets. In theory, the LCS is a multifaceted and cost-effective answer to these requirements. In reality, the LCS is an overpriced, underperforming vessel that does not meet current needs and is a bad deal for taxpayers.
The LCS is a far less capable ship than the Navy needs and for what it does, far more expensive than American taxpayers can afford. Ongoing design defects and associated cost overruns have added hundreds of millions of dollars to the projected cost for a single LCS. At a projected construction cost of $220 million each and a projected mission-ready cost of $400 million, the LCS would have allowed the Navy to reverse the declining size of its surface force and prepare for future conflicts. In reality, the total cost of a mission-ready ship has nearly doubled to $780 million, and the Navy has been forced to cut payload options by 1/3. Because the LCS has been designed to perform a number of tasks adequately, it does few things well. Cancellation of new complementary warships (namely guided missile destroyers and air defense cruisers) exacerbates inherent shortcomings of the LCS by increasing expectations far beyond what it was nominally designed to do. The LCS is fundamentally under-armed, under-armored and under-crewed, giving it limited utility in littoral (near shore) waters and making it a non-asset in terms of surface combat strength.
After a decade of waste and negligence, in February 2014 Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel cut the planned purchase of LCS from 52 to 32 and authorized the Department of the Navy to identify more “capable and lethal small surface combatant” alternatives.4 This is a positive step, but not the promise to cancel the LCS that the U.S. Navy needs and American taxpayers deserve.