The USS Beloit, one of the Navy’s newest ships, has launched after sliding into the waters of Lake Michigan on May 7.
According to a Lockheed Martin press release, the company “is confident that the sailors of Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) 29, the future USS Beloit, will play a critical role in supporting maritime security and deterrence. The LCS Freedom-variant, operationally deployed today, is an unmatched and highly adaptable warship, designed to outpace the growing threat of our adversaries and fulfill the dynamic missions of the U.S. Navy.”
The Beloit is the latest Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ship to take to the seas, although just how long the vessel will be cruising remains in question. While the Navy has planned for 35 Independence and Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ships, a Government Accountability Office report published in February found that the LCS still “has not demonstrated the operational capabilities it needs to perform its mission.”
And even as this Littoral Combat Ship is commissioning, the class overall seems to be on its way out. The ship that gave the class its name, the USS Freedom, was decommissioned last year after only 13 years of service. The Navy’s latest budget proposal includes decommissioning nine of the so-called “little crappy ships,” even though they’re among the newest ships in the fleet.
For years, the fleet of ships has been plagued by “problems with the vessel’s combat system elements and a distinct lack of redundancies for vital systems,” leaving the Littoral Combat Ship unable to survive in “‘high intensity conflict,’” according to a 2018 review from the Pentagon’s Operational Test & Evaluation office.
Problems with its propulsion system have also hampered the Freedom-variant. Designed to give the ship a top speed of over 40 knots, the combining gear on these ships has been beset with multiple issues.
It isn’t much better for the second class of Littoral Combat Ships, the Independence-variant. According to documents acquired by the Navy Times, these ships are “suffering from structural defects that have led to hull cracks on several vessels, limiting the speed and sea states in which some ships can operate.”
Whether any ships will be decommissioned remains to be seen, as the Pentagon’s budget request has not yet been approved and Congress has previously resisted attempts to decommission these ships. Last year, Congress blocked the decommissioning of the Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ships USS Fort Worth, Detroit, and Little Rock, which were commissioned in 2012, 2016, and 2017 respectively.
Of course, the Littoral Combat Ship hasn’t been a complete failure. In 2021, six of the ships were deployed. And while they still have “relatively limited capabilities” operationally, they are still entering service and one LCS even deployed to European waters for the first time. That same ship making the inaugural voyage, though, is one that is part of the proposed decommissioning program for these troubled vessels.
So even with the Navy seemingly ready to move on from the Littoral Combat Ship era, for however long the USS Beloit takes to the seas we wish the crew good luck.