Christened in the northern Wisconsin town of Marinette and commissioned in snowy Buffalo in December, the USS Little Rock’s bloodlines run more Yankee than Dixie.
Which should serve the ship and her crew well while they’re locked in the ice near Montreal. Much like her troubled class of Littoral Combat Ship, the Little Rock remains dead in the water.
In the early 2000s, Navy officials had envisioned the LCS program as a revolutionary way to produce ships quickly, less expensively and outfit them with gear that could be swapped out when missions dictated. Dozens of them were expected to patrol the shallow coastlines of some the world’s hot spots, searching for submarines or conducting counter-mine missions.
That didn’t happen.
“The consequences of this approach are well known today — costs to construct the ships have more than doubled from initial expectations, with promised levels of capability unfulfilled and deliveries significantly delayed,” the Government Accountability Office reported in April 2017. The GAO affixed the adjective “troubled” to the LCS program.
In 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, citing concerns that the Navy had valued quantities of the LCS ships over combat capability, cut the number of the ships and their successor, a new frigate, from 52 to 40. The LCS program will end with 28 ships built, under contract or funded, according to the GAO.
The ships cost an estimated $568 million apiece, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The Navy plans to begin buying the multi-role frigates, a class of ship it had retired, based on the LCS design.
Meantime, the Little Rock will remain in its icy winter home for the foreseeable future.
“Significant weather conditions prevented the ship from departing Montreal earlier this month and icy conditions continue to intensify,” Lt. Cdr. Courtney Hillson, a Navy spokeswoman, said in a statement. “The temperatures in Montreal and throughout the transit area have been colder than normal, and included near-record low temperatures, which created significant and historical conditions in the late December, early January timeframe.”
The crew will continue to train while in port at Montreal, Hillson said. And they’ll wait for the weather to break before continuing through the St. Lawrence Seaway on its way to the naval station in Jacksonville.
That could take some time. No spring thaw is on the horizon: The forecast for Montreal calls for high temperatures piercing the freezing mark only occasionally over the next 10 days. On Tuesday, freezing rain fell.
“Keeping the ship in Montreal until waterways are clear ensures the safety of the ship and crew, and will have limited impact on the ship’s operational schedule, Hillson said.