The House Appropriations Defense subcommittee’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2023 defense spending bill would prevent the Navy from retiring five Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) as the service plans requested.

The Navy’s FY ‘23 budget request and 30-Year Shipbuilding Plan outline the Navy’s plans to retire 24 ships total in 2023, including nine odd-numbered

Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), five Ticonderoga-class cruisers, four Whidbey Island/Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ships (LSDs), two submarines, two oilers, and two Expeditionary Transfer Docks (ESDs) (Defense Daily, April 25).

The Navy has argued in favor of retiring the relatively new LCSs for two reasons: because the service canceled the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission package that they were set to field and because of the cost of fixing their combining gears. Without the combining gear fix, the already-built Freedom-variant LCSs have a lower top speed.

The service also wants to retire one of the first LCSs, the USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), because it is a test ship that would be too expensive to modernize up to the level of other vessels being retained. 

The service seeks to use the funds saved by retiring the ships early to buy more missiles and maintain and fix other vessels. The Navy also intends to use the future Constellation-class frigates to cover ASW missions.

The draft bill would specifically prevent funding from being used to decommission the USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), Wichita (LCS-13), Billings (LCS-15), Indianapolis (LCS-17), and St. Louis (LCS-19). However, the Navy would still be allowed to retire the USS Milwaukee (LCS-5), Detroit (LCS-7), Little Rock (LCS-9), Sioux City (LCS-11).

According to the subcommittee’s summary of the bill, it would direct a report on alternative uses for the five LCSs restricted from decommissioning, “such as missions in the SOUTHCOM and AFRICOM areas of responsibility.”

The bill also allows the Navy and Defense Security Cooperation Agency to look into the option of transferring the four LCSs allowed to be decommissioned to partner countries.

This is in line with recent discussions on what to do with the LCSs the Navy would prefer to not repair and update. Last month, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee the Navy could sell the nine LCSs to South American countries (Defense Daily, May 27).

“In terms of what are the options going forward with these ships –  I would offer to the subcommittee that we should consider offering these ships to other countries that would be able to use them effectively. There are countries in South America, as an example…that would be able to use these ships that have small crews and so instead of just considering scrapping as the single option. I think there are others to look at,” Gilday said.