Editor’s note: this story has been updated to include a statement from Naval Surface Force Atlantic.
After less than five years in service, the littoral combat ship Sioux City was decommissioned Monday in a ceremony aboard Naval Station Mayport, Florida.
It was the latest early retirement for the costly and troubled Freedom-class ships, vessels conceived earlier this century that officials now admit stand little chance of surviving a conventional battle against China or another nation’s navy.
Such ships were meant to serve for 25 years.
Once billed as the future of the fleet, the LCS program has been hindered by mission modules that haven’t materialized, as well as class-wide propulsion and hull crack issues that have plagued the Freedom and Independence LCS classes, respectively.
Naval Surface Force Atlantic spokesman Lt. Cmdr. David Carter said Wednesday that the decision to decommission the ship “was not about the material condition.”
“Ultimately, the Navy has to make difficult decisions on how to invest in the future,” Carter said in an email. “To maintain our strategic advantage, particularly under fiscal constraints, it is important for the Navy to carefully review our force structure regularly and divest of legacy capabilities that no longer bring sufficient lethality to maximize our effectiveness in deterring and defeating potential adversaries.”
Since entering the fleet in 2018, Sioux City conducted four deployments between December 2020 and October 2022, including what officials dubbed an “historic” deployment last fall that saw the ship conduct operations in the waters of U.S. 5th and U.S. 6th Fleet, according to a Navy press release.
“It’s easy to get locked into the day-to-day grind of running a ship and forget about those who came before you and those who hope and pray for your success,” Cmdr. Michael Gossett, Sioux City’s last commanding officer, said at the ceremony, according to the Navy release. “It’s tempting to engross oneself with the finality of the process. Let us not lose sight of the memories we have made, the culture we have built, and the successes we have had and will endure forever.”
The Navy announced its intent to decommission Sioux City and eight other Freedom-class LCS early in the spring of 2022, part of a move to divest the sea service of as many LCS as possible in order to free up funding for other priorities, a tacit acknowledgement that the LCS fleet has not done what it was originally envisioned to do.
The ships have also provoked congressional ire in recent years.
During a hearing last summer, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., displayed a floor chart titled “Leaking Cracked Ships” that contained a picture of each LCS with a lemon, playing on the slang for a defective vehicle.
“We all know what lemon cars are. We have a fleet of lemon LCS ships,” she said at the time. “We have spent billions of dollars on this fleet when they have no capability to help us deal with our largest threat, which is that of China and Russia. The only winners have been the contractors on which the Navy relies for sustaining these ships.”
Defense News reporter Megan Eckstein contributed to this report.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.