The U.S. Navy is considering the decommission of nine ships in its Freedom-class of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). The cost to build these warships was about $4.5 billion, and the oldest LCS earmarked for decommissioning is only ten years old.
"The Navy contends in its budget proposal that the move would free up $50 million per ship annually for other priorities," reports The Associated Press, noting: "It would also reduce the size of the fleet that's already surpassed by China in sheer numbers."
Capt. James Fanell, a former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, acknowledges the Navy's intentions are a "complex issue" – but he tells American Family News he fundamentally disagrees with the administration's budget submission, which would result in a reduction in the overall size of the Navy. The proposal, he points out, comes at a time when America is facing a "very real" national security threat from China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
"But the reality is the Littoral Combat Ship class has been a program that has been fraught with significant problems throughout the short life of the class," he admits. "Most problematic has been the ship's material readiness and operational reliability."
Because the ships were designed for "multiple mission modules, [including] mine countermeasures, surface warfare and undersea warfare," the retired Navy officer points out that "not all LCS are equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles [ASCMs]."
"[ASCMs are] absolutely essential for any war-at-sea scenario against the PLAN or the Russian navy," Fanell explains. "But that is a limitation that could be remedied by equipping all LCS warships with the Naval Strike Missile [NSM], and forward deploying them to bases across the Western Pacific from Singapore to South Korea."
With such a deployment, he argues, those warships would remain the best option for a first strike against any PLAN invasion of Taiwan. A similar step near the South China Sea, he says, would be a bit more involved.
"[It] would require increased diplomatic efforts with treaty allies like the Republic of the Philippines and Kingdom of Thailand, as well as expanding numbers of LCS at Changi Naval Base in Singapore – and even to seek basing or presence authorization in Vietnam," he describes.
America loses, but an ally benefits
Once a U.S. Navy warship has been identified for decommissioning, it will enter the U.S. Navy reserve fleet – or the "mothball fleet," as it's sometimes called.
"[And] depending on priority, funding, and planned disposition, there are various maintenance categories for keeping ships and submarines," Fanell adds, explaining they can be modernized, maintained in "as-is" status, or be stricken from the Navy record.
"It is this last category that may be of some use if the Congress is unable to change the Biden administration's flawed naval budget," he explains.
Fanell suggests that the U.S., if it chooses to strike the nine LCS warships from the record, could give them to Taiwan – at a low cost – as a gesture of showing America's full support.
"Normally ships that are sold to foreign, friendly nations have their weapons systems removed," Fanell suggests, "but in this case, the Congress should move to get these ships to Taiwan with all weapons systems intact."
Or, as an alternative, he recommends: "If these ships do not have the NSM system, Taiwan could begin to adapt [them for] their Hsiung Feng III missile, a supersonic ASCM with a range of 220 nautical miles."
AP reports that over the past two decades, the U.S. Navy has dipped from 318 ships to 297, while the Chinese fleet has grown from 210 to 360 ships.