WEAPON SYSTEMSThe Inside Story of How the Navy Spent Billions on the “Little Crappy Ship”

By Joaquin Sapien

Published 8 September 2023

Littoral combat ships were supposed to launch the Navy into the future. Instead they broke down across the globe and many of their weapons never worked. Now the Navy is getting rid of them. One is less than five years old.

Key Takeaways
·  One Navy secretary and his allies in Congress fought to build more littoral combat ships even as they broke down at sea and their weapons systems failed. The Navy wound up with more ships than it wanted, at an estimated lifetime cost that could reach $100 billion or more.
·  The Navy’s haste to deliver ships took precedence over combat ability. Without functioning weapons systems the vessels are like a “box floating in the ocean,” one former officer said.
·  Sailors and officers complained they spent more time fixing the ships than sailing them. The stress led many to seek mental health care.
·  Top Navy commanders placed pressure on subordinates to sail the ships even when the crews and vessels were not fully prepared to go to sea.
·  Several major breakdowns in 2016 exposed the limits of the ships and their crews, each adding fresh embarrassment to a program meant to propel the Navy into a more technologically advanced future.

In July 2016, warships from more than two dozen nations gathered off the coasts of Hawaii and Southern California to join the United States in the world’s largest naval exercise. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea and others sent hundreds of destroyers, aircraft carriers and warplanes. They streamed in long lines across the ocean, symbols of power and prestige.

The USS Freedom had its own special place within the armada. It was one of a new class of vessels known as littoral combat ships. The U.S. Navy had billed them as technical marvels — small, fast and light, able to combat enemies at sea, hunt mines and sink submarines.

In reality, the LCS was well on the way to becoming one of the worst boondoggles in the military’s long history of buying overpriced and underperforming weapons systems. Two of the $500 million ships had suffered embarrassing breakdowns in previous months. The Freedom’s performance during the exercise, showing off its ability to destroy underwater mines, was meant to rejuvenate the ships’ record on the world stage. The ship was historically important too; it was the first LCS built, the first in the water, commissioned just eight years prior.