Boondoggle

The U.S. Navy commissioned the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to be the vessel of the future. They would be cheap, have stealthy cross-sections to reduce their radar signature, be highly automated in order to function with a small crew and they were designed to be easily refitted for different missions such as anti-sub, anti-mine, or covert ops. It would be the Swiss Army knife of the Navy.

The future of course would be one of climate chaos: small nations would be flooded by rising oceans so the LCS would have a shallow draft so it could pull up to flooded cities and river to deposit special forces, hence the name “littoral”.

That is correct, the U.S. Navy wanted an entire ship designed around climate change.

Several problems arose:

  • They were anything but cheap.
  • The crews were so small it was impossible to give crew members any time off, leading to high stress and low morale.
  • The software needed to create the mission modules and the automated systems never really worked.
  • The ships were too light to withstand standard coastal defenses, meaning they could not actually be used in littoral combat.
  • The hull designs did not handle well in deep water.

The Navy ordered ships that could not be used for anything. Problems were clear from the start and by 2012 it was pretty clear that the program was a boondoggle. By 2017 the Navy was looking to contract the construction of conventional frigates. As of today the Navy has proposed retiring the LCS ships that have been built. The oldest is only 12 years old, brand new by naval standards. Of course, Congress may decide to keep the ships in the budget anyway, becasue Congress is equally bad with money.

Lately the Navy has had a difficult time developing new ships. The Zumwalt Destroyer was an even bigger disaster than the LCS – only three were ever built and what role they might serve in combat is unclear. They were built with many of the same principles in mind as the LCS.

The Navy however can learn from its mistakes. Their Sea Wolf attack submarines which were meant to replace the old Los Angeles class subs proved to be too expensive, so they were canceled and replaced with the cheaper Virginia class subs. The difference of course is that the Sea Wolf class subs (three were built and are still in service) are highly capable ships while the LCS and Zumwalt are not. The lessons learned from the Sea Wolf construction were applied to the more economical and realistic Virginia subs.

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