SAN DIEGO– The Navy’s top officer said the decision to retire the first four Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) saves the Navy from spending $2 billion in upgrading them to the level of the rest of the LCSs.

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Michael Gilday explain the Navy focused on using the first four hulls for testing to deal with all of the problems the class dealt with at first, not being operational vessels. The tests allowed the Navy to make modifications to the LCS designs and systems to allow the later vessels perform better.

Adm. Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, addresses a question during a Sea Service Chiefs town hall panel discussion at the annual 2020 WEST conference on March 2. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
Adm. Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, addresses a question during a Sea Service Chiefs town hall panel discussion at the annual 2020 WEST conference on March 2. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

“So we made a decision a number of years ago in order to give capability to LCS-5 and beyond, particularly the block buys we did in 2015, we decided we needed to do much more testing and use those first four hulls so that we better understand what the issues with respect to hull maintenance and engineering that kept on plaguing us, right? And kept us from getting those ships at sea,” Gilday said here during a panel at the 2020 annual AFCEA West conference on March 2.

Gilday said the Navy targeted upgrades with LCSs, focusing on things like power generation; electronic warfare; and command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) with a gun fire control system.

“So we used those first hulls to test. We put no money into upgrading them like the rest of the fleet. So in order to put them in the same car as the rest of the LCS class it would cost about another $2 billion.

The Navy’s FY 2021 budget request planned to decommission LCSs 1-4, noting they serve as training and test assets. It said this would save $136 million in FY ’21 and $1.2 billion over the five-year Future Years Defense Program and “canceling their modernization allows us to prioritize lethality and survivability where we need it” (Defense Daily, Feb. 10).

Navy budget documents said the funding can then be reallocated to other LCSs with their surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and mine countermeasures mission packages.

At the conference Gilday admitted “that was a tough decision to make on whether we wanted to put that money toward those existing LCSs or retire them, move on with the rest of the class, and then take that $2 billion and put it in the [SCN] account for different capability.”

However, he said the main point is the first four ships are not providing lethality to conflicts.

“They’re not bringing capabilities to the fight and I didn’t see the return on investment to do that.”