Depending on the source, the target lifespan of the LCS is 25 years. That seems a bit optimistic given the recent history of early retirements of various ship classes. For instance, several Aegis Ticonderogas are being retired before the completion of their lifespan, if you can believe that! As of last year the average age of retired Ticos is just under 21 years. The most powerful ships we have, and they’re being retired early. Do you really think the LCS will make its full lifespan?
As a point of comparison, here are the average lifespans of several recently retired or retiring ship classes.
Perry FFG 29 yrs
Tico CG 21 yrs
Carriers CV 44 yrs
LPD 41 yrs
MHC 11 yrs
Add to that the weak structural design of the vessels and the extensive or exclusive (depending on which version) use of aluminum and the likelihood of achieving the full lifespan becomes even more remote. Few people realize just how lightly the LCS is constructed. Even the steel hulled Burkes were built too lightly and are now being forced to undergo a program of structural reinforcement. The LCS will need major structural modifications and reinforcements to have any chance of reaching their target lifespans. ComNavOps hears feedback from active duty sailors that the USS Freedom’s passage to
Guam and took a physical toll on the ship and will require repairs and that was for a simple passage in normal seas at moderate to low speed. This does not bode well for a 25 year lifespan. Singapore
Further, the maintenance model for the LCS relegates all routine maintenance to pierside or dockyard availability periods. The normal, day to day maintenance that is a part of everyday shipboard life will not be performed. Thus, corrosion will not be dealt with on a regular basis. This can’t help but take a toll on the ships and their equipment. We’ve already seen rampant corrosion of internal ship’s equipment on Freedom from saltwater infiltration. This corrosion is normal saltwater corrosion, not the galvanic corrosion issue, and is not being treated on a daily basis as it would be on other ships. Add in the fact that maintenance fleetwide has been relegated to an afterthought and it’s not hard to imagine that the LCS’s are going to be worn and tired before their time.
Finally, consider the crewing and deployment arrangement for the LCS. The LCS model is 3-2, meaning three crews for every two ships so as to allow greater deployment time. While this sounds fine on paper, it has resulted in worn and tired ships in every instance where it has been tried. Ships wear out faster when deployed more often. Kind of obvious, huh?
Considering the above factors, one can’t help but be highly skeptical about the likelihood of the LCS achieving a 25 year lifespan. A 15 to 20 year life is much more likely. What does this mean for the Navy? Well, that mythical 300 ship fleet (assuming one counts the toothless LCS as part of the fleet !) isn’t going to happen and the Navy is going to have to come up with new construction funding much sooner than anticipated. Worse, given the rampant problems with module development and the greatly reduced number of modules being procured as well as the likelihood of future acquisition reductions, we may actually see some LCSs retired without ever having deployed with a module!