JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Dealing a blow to Naval Station Mayport’s vitality, the U.S. Senate approved a 2023 defense budget that includes provisions to retire four littoral combat ships commissioned during the past decade.
The Thursday night vote on the $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act effectively granted half of the decommissioning proposals the Navy recommended in March, when budget officials said eight Freedom-variant LCS based at Mayport and a ninth in San Diego, Calif. should be taken out of service to free up funds for Navy priorities including responses to Chinese naval advances in the Pacific.
A spokesman for Mayport’s LCS Squadron Two said Friday he couldn’t comment about which ships will be decommissioned under the bill, which still needed President Joe Biden’s signature.
A measure drafted over the summer by the U.S. House of Representative Appropriations Committee specifically exempted four Mayport LCS — the USS Wichita, USS Billings, USS Indianapolis and USS St. Louis — and the USS Fort Worth in San Diego from decommissioning.
That provision seemed to leave vulnerable Mayport’s USS Milwaukee, USS Detroit, USS Little Rock and USS Sioux City, all commissioned between 2015 and 2018 but before the exempted vessels.
But the bill approved by the Senate appeared to guarantee simply that no more than four LCS could be retired, remaining silent on which ships should be affected.
Out of 24 ships of all types originally proposed for decommissioning, the budget bill authorized retiring only 12.
The legislation requires the Defense Department to evaluate any LCS being retired or put in storage to see whether those ships can be transferred instead to a country that’s an American ally.
Those placements aren’t a sure thing, however. In June, the website Defense News quoted a House member saying Ukraine had been asked about receiving LCS to replenish its war-battered navy but expressed a preference for getting refitted U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats.
The timeline for decommissioning any Mayport vessel is unclear. In August, the news website of the nonprofit U.S. Naval Institute reported that a Navy administrative message listed proposed decommissioning dates for eight Mayport LCS that placed three at the end of March, three in June and two in September. However two of the vessels, the USS Detroit and USS Little Rock, had been included in 2021 in a different retirement schedule that slated them to shut down by March of this year but was never implemented.
Lt. Anthony Junco, public affairs officer for LCS Squadron Two, said repairs on the Sioux City are ongoing and work had already been completed on the St. Louis.
“Plans for correction of the gear defect remain under consideration for remaining in-service ships of the class,” Junco said by email.
The next Mayport LCS, the USS Cooperstown, is scheduled to be commissioned in the springtime.