US Navy chief: It may be time to bring back retired warships

Enlarge US Navy In a speech before the Naval War College yesterday, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said that the Navy is looking at "every trick" to grow the fleet more quickly toward the Navy’s goal of 355 ships, including extending the lives of ships already in the fleet and "bringing ships back." And one of the candidates for a comeback, Richardson said, is the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate. (The Iowa-class battleships , despite political posturing by President Trump during the election campaign, have not yet been mentioned.)

The Perry class ships were the Navy’s equivalent of the Air Force’s A-10 Thunderbolt II—workhorse ships that lacked the glamor of larger, more capable commands that performed missions essential to the fleet. They were originally built as guided missile frigates (FFGs), intended to provide a combination of air and antisubmarine defenses for carrier battle groups. The few ships being considered for reactivation were all built in the late 1980s and decommissioned over the past five years. About 10 are held in the Navy’s Inactive Fleet Inventory designated for foreign sale, while the remainder are slotted to be scrapped or sunk as targets. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson speaks at the Naval War College on June 13, 2017. The Australian Navy has managed to keep three of its original Perry -class frigates (known as the Adelaide class) in service through upgrades to its power plants and other life-extending maintenance. Several other navies still operate former US ships of the class.

But the US Navy moved to decommission all of its Perry FFGs to make room for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) classes, claiming heavy wear from overuse had rendered them too expensive to keep afloat. The move has been seen as more political than operational by many analysts, because the Navy’s leadership had neglected the ships for so long—putting off upgrades to the missile system and then dispensing with it altogether and replacing it with M242 Bushmaster automatic cannons. The Navy instead spent its budget on newer, larger, more capable ships (the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers) and on the LCS with its "modular" mission capabilities.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the neglect, the Perry ships were put into mothballs faster than the Navy could replace them, leaving a major gap in the US fleet.

Now, orders for new LCS ships are on hold because that "modular" mission capability turned out to be more of a pipe dream than an actual thing, and the LCS ships in service are woefully underarmed for service in more hostile waters. The Navy is looking at a new frigate program based on a beefed-up version of the LCS designs. But that leaves the Navy short on ships at a time when it is under increased pressure to deal with a growing Chinese fleet in the Pacific, and the antisubmarine role has once again become a high priority.

Richardson said that the Navy needs to look at taking early steps to plan to extend the lives […]