Protests were inevitable when the Office of Management and Budget released a memo with plans to cut future orders for twelve new warships and early retire a dozen more vessels currently serving in the U.S. Navy. Asked to plan for a budgetarily impossible 355-ship Navy, the OMB proposed budget actually would see ship counts decrease from 290 to 287.
The proposal seemingly reflects skepticism that the Navy’s current warships are capable of meeting near-future challenges, trading away a significant amount of firepower in the near term in exchange for a smaller number of more modern vessels tomorrow, even though those successors remain strictly on the drawing board.
A key bit of underlying context is that the Navy’s two major new surface warfare programs at the turn of the twenty-first century, the Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers and the littoral combat ship, have been expensive disasters. That leaves the Navy planning to retire vessels without a new design ready to take their place.
Let’s take a look at the ships on the budgetary chopping block.
Freedom and Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships
The Navy’s Independence and Freedom-class littoral combat ships were in theory meant to be cheap, cost-efficient corvette-size vessels with modular mission packages ideal for coastal operations. But the program ended up being under-gunned, breakdown prone, and neither cheap nor modular.
The Navy is therefore proposing to early retire the first two vessels of each class in 2021—even though these ships had eight to fourteen years of service life remaining!