But just last week, the Navy quietly decommissioned the USS Independence, the ship whose design the Pierre follows, after just eleven years in service, just 44% of its projected service time, because it was too expensive to maintain:
As part of the FY 2021 budget, the Navy said it was too expensive to upgrade the first four ships for a new era of “great power competition” and sought to decommission the quartet.
“They’re not unimportant, just in great power competition they were less important – so that’s why we took those savings and applied it to other areas,” then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget Rear Adm. Randy Crites said in 2020.
CNO Adm. Mike Gilday told USNI News in an interview it would take $2.5 billion to upgrade the first four ships – money he would rather put toward the emerging Constellation-class frigate (FFG-62) program.
In the current FY 2022 budget submission, the Navy is asking to cut four LCS – Coronado, Fort Worth, USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Little Rock (LCS-9).
The Navy commissioned Forth Worth in 2012 and Coronado in 2014. Detroit commissioned in 2016 and Little Rock in 2017.
The Navy’s plan to divest the hulls to free up money to invest in future ships or emerging weapons like hypersonics has met with widespread criticism in Congress [Sam LaGrone, “Navy Quietly Decommissions Littoral Combat Ship Independence,” USNI News, 2021.07.31].
These Littoral Combat Ships evidently aren’t providing nearly as much bang for the buck as the Navy wished. An LCS costs $70 million a year to operate; Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyers cost $81 million a year and pack much more punch. The LCS is also failing to deliver on promises of lower staffing needs:
[Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael] Gilday confirmed that the original crew concept for the LCS — as few as eight officers and 32 enlisted sailors in the Independence class, for example — had the adverse effect of pushing up maintenance costs by requiring contractors to do more of the work while in port. He said the plan is now to bring more of the maintenance work in-house [Thomas Nedwick and Tyler Rogoway, “Navy’s ‘Cheap’ Littoral Combat Ships Cost Nearly as Much to Run as Guided Missile Destroyers,” The Drive, 2021.04.12].
…and modular flexibility:
Then there are ongoing concerns relating to the long-awaited mission modulesthat give each of the LCS vessels a purpose. Originally, it was planned that these mission modules could be switched out rapidly while in port before that idea was abandoned. Each ship now has a single mission module installed relatively permanently, but the anti-submarine warfare and mine warfare mission packages will still not be available until next year [Nedwick and Rogoway, 2021.04.12].
When the Legislature passed SB 33, Senator Mary Duvall said the ship bearing her city’s name would serve as an educational tool. She probably didn’t expect that the USS Pierre might educate us in how not to spend government dollars for maximum effectiveness. But in that regard, the ship would simply be living up to its name.