Navy Leader Floats Idea of Selling Troubled Littoral Combat Ships to South America

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The littoral combat ship USS Wichita.
The littoral combat ship USS Wichita, the Dominican Republic coastal patrol vessel Altair, and Dominican Republic Boston Whaler interceptorpatrol boat Duhbe conduct a maritime interdiction exercise, May 5, 2022. (U.S. Navy photo by Aerographer’s Mate First Class Jonathan Richards)

The Navy's top uniformed leader told Congress that the U.S. government should consider selling ships from its troubled littoral combat fleet it plans to decommission to countries in South America.

The Navy has faced sharp criticism for its latest plan to decommission all of its Freedom-class littoral combat ships. The youngest ship, USS St. Louis (LCS-19), was commissioned less than two years ago in August 2020.

"We should consider offering these ships to other countries that would be able to use them effectively," Adm. Michael Gilday said when asked by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., about the Navy's plan to decommission nine of the ships in its upcoming budget proposal at a Senate committee hearing Thursday.

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"There are countries in South America, as an example ... that would be able to use these ships that have small crews," Gilday added while speaking to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

The Freedom-class variant was found to have a major flaw with its combining gear -- a piece of equipment that transfers power from the ship's engines to its water jets -- early last year, leading to the decision to decommission the ships.

"The Navy owes a public apology to American taxpayers for wasting tens of billions of dollars on ships they now say serve no purpose," Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., wrote in a tweet posted in March when the plans were announced.

Gilday acknowledged the equipment flaw, but said the Navy had other reasons for getting rid of the ships.

"While the mechanical issues were a factor, a bigger factor was the lack of sufficient warfighting capability against a peer competitor in China," he explained Thursday, echoing other Navy officials going back several months.

One key factor that Gilday and other Navy leaders have pointed to as dooming the ships was that the anti-submarine warfare package that was developed for the ships didn't work.

Despite the issues the Freedom class has faced, one area they have seen success is in southern waters conducting counter-narcotics missions. In October 2021, the Navy announced the USS Sioux City seized almost 500 kilograms of suspected cocaine, which the service noted "has an estimated street value of over $20.7 million."

"So, instead of just considering scrapping as the single option, I think there are others that we can look at," Gilday said.

Moran appeared open to the idea of re-selling the decommissioned ships, telling Gilday that "if your team would be interested in having a conversation with my team about the suggestion that you made, please pursue."

The Navy currently has six more Freedom-class littoral combat ships in various stages of construction. USNI News, citing Navy officials, reported in late March that the service 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 Names the Ships It Wants Scrapped as Congressional Protests Grow

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