The Navy decommissioned the littoral combat ship Milwaukee on Friday in Mayport, Florida, after less than 10 years in service.
The ship, designed to serve for a quarter century, is one of the Freedom-class variants that the Navy is mothballing before they reach the end of their service life so it can fund other priorities. The LCS Sioux City, another in the Freedom class, was decommissioned Aug. 14 after five years of service.
“Throughout the life of the ship, the Sailors that sailed Milwaukee led the way in training and operations that led to fleet improvements and culminated with operational success that supported national security objectives and demonstrated U.S. commitment to our allies,” said Cmdr. Jason Knox, Milwaukee’s commanding officer, according to a Navy news release. “Not only can her Sailors be proud of their distinctive accomplishments, but the City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, can be proud of their ship, too.”
The Milwaukee, commissioned Nov. 21, 2015, had an ignominious beginning. While making its way from the Great Lakes region to its first home port in San Diego, the ship suffered an engineering casualty. The problems with the propulsion plant began almost immediately after the ship left Halifax, Nova Scotia, bound for Mayport, Florida. It completely broke down Dec. 11 and had to be towed more than 40 nautical miles to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek, Virginia.
“Reporting of a complete loss of propulsion on USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) is deeply alarming, particularly given this ship was commissioned just 20 days ago,” the late Sen. John McCain said at the time. “U.S. Navy ships are built with redundant systems to enable continued operation in the event of an engineering casualty, which makes this incident very concerning.”
The Milwaukee completed its first deployment to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of operations in 2022. It conducted a second deployment in 2023, where it teamed up with its embarked Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment and seized $30 million in suspected cocaine and three detainees during interdictions at sea.
The Navy announced in 2022 it planned to decommission the Milwaukee in FY23, along with nine other Freedom-variant littoral combat ships. The Navy identified a class-wide defect in 2020 that would require replacing the combining gears. But regardless of the cost, service officials now admit the ships stand little chance of surviving a conventional battle against China or another nation’s navy.
Naval Surface Force Atlantic spokesman Lt. Cmdr. David Carter said in an email to Navy Times last month that choosing 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. “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.”
Defense News reporter Megan Eckstein contributed to this report.