Navy Names the Ships It Wants Scrapped as Congressional Protests Grow

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The guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill transits the Pacific Ocean.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) transits the Pacific Ocean, Sept. 17, 2011. (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman John Grandin)

The Navy has announced the names of the cruisers that it wants to decommission as part of the latest budget proposal, as well as confirming that all the Freedom-class littoral combat ships -- including one that is less than two years old -- are headed for scrap.

A Navy spokesman confirmed that the five cruisers slated for the cut are: USS Bunker Hill (CG-52), USS Mobile Bay (CG-53), USS San Jacinto (CG-56), USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) and USS Vicksburg (CG-69).

A few of the cruisers named have been tossed around by the Navy before. The Bunker Hill's decommissioning came up as far back as 2017 while a Navy message announced the planned decommissioning of the San Jacinto and Lake Champlain last year. Unlike the littoral combat ships, the cruisers are a much older platform that have developed constant maintenance issues.

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The Navy also confirmed that all of its Freedom-class littoral combat ships -- the USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), USS Milwaukee (LCS-5), USS Detroit (LCS-7), USS Little Rock (LCS-9), USS Sioux City (LCS-11), USS Wichita (LCS-13), USS Billings (LCS-15), USS Indianapolis (LCS 17) and USS St. Louis (LCS-19) -- are part of the 24 ships the service said it wants to scrap in a bid to save about $3.6 billion over five years.

On Monday, the Navy's budget chief, Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, told reporters that the choice to scrap the variant was driven in part by the issues the ships were having with their combining gear -- basically, the ship's transmission -- as well as the failure of the anti-submarine mission package.

Gumbleton said the mission package was facing "huge challenges -- not gonna work."

The plans to mothball ships drew near instant outrage from Congress, especially members who follow Navy issues.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., called the plan "a step backward" in terms of countering Russia and China in a tweet Monday. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., said that he was "particularly disappointed that even as we aim to grow our naval and projection forces, this budget continues the divest to invest strategy that will shrink our fleet once again" in a statement released Monday.

Yet the sharpest words came from Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., in a series of tweets Tuesday.

"The Navy owes a public apology to American taxpayers for wasting tens of billions of dollars on ships they now say serve no purpose," Luria wrote, seemingly referencing the littoral combat ships.

The congresswoman, who is a former Naval officer, noted that 11 of the ships slated for decommissioning are less than 10 years old and singled out the USS St. Louis as being less than two years old and two of the 24 ships as "currently in modernization."

Luria's critique overlooks the fact that Congress also played a role in the now-incredibly messy littoral combat ship program, as well.

While the Navy initially wanted to buy 55 ships in the class, it scaled back to 32 in 2014 after cost overruns, questions about the ships' combat survivability and a range of maintenance problems that led to failures to deploy. But several years later, Congress insisted on adding three more ships despite the fact that reports from the Congressional Research Service,a bipartisan research institute within the Library of Congress, from as far back as 2011 described concerns that the ships or their mission packages wouldn't be able to live up to all the designers' promises.

By 2018, research reports referred to the program as "controversial" and cited "cost growth, design and construction issues," as well as questions over whether the ships "are sufficiently armed and would be able to perform their stated missions effectively."

Luria also laid into the Navy for cutting the ability to launch missiles from ships while "investing in the next 'Gucci' missile and technology that will not be mature for 20+ years."

Ultimately, the public remarks suggest that the sea service will have a difficult time selling Congress -- whose approval it needs -- on its decommissioning plans. Last year's National Defense Authorization Act reversed the Navy's plan to scrap seven cruisers by forcing it to hold on to two of them.

"The Navy has no strategy," Luria declared. "Stop saying you do, because if you did you would be able to explain how this Fleet size will allow us to defend Taiwan."

Gumbleton explained during his Monday press conference that the Navy is pivoting to focus on one variant of the littoral combat ship, because "there's savings programmatically, instead of having to sustain two different lines."

In 2010, though, when the LCS program was just getting off the ground, the choice to buy two variations of the small ship was pitched as a chance to save money.

"This option is good for the taxpayers because it enables us to buy more ships for the same money and allows us to lock in a lower price for all 20 ships," then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said, according to The New York Times.

The Navy currently has six more Freedom-class littoral combat ships in various stages of construction. The nonprofit United States Naval Institute, citing Navy officials, reported that the Navy will still take delivery and plans to use them in South America and the Middle East.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: Navy Wants to Scrap 9 Littoral Combat Ships Along with 15 Others to Pay for New Carriers and Submarines

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