After just seven years, the Navy decommissioned the third littoral combat ship of the Freedom-class from service.

In a solemn ceremony last week, the United States Navy decommissioned the littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee (LCS-5), marking the end of a brief yet eventful chapter in its maritime history. The decision to retire the vessel, which had served for a mere seven years, resulted from persistent issues that had plagued it for a mere twenty days after its commissioning.

The Navy’s announcement of this early decommissioning was closely followed by plans to retire nine other littoral combat vessels, all linked to a defect involving their combining gears. As the third and latest of the Navy’s decommissioned Freedom-class ships, the USS Milwaukee’s retirement echoes a broader narrative of challenges and accomplishments.

Navigating Early Challenges: The USS Milwaukee’s Troubled Start

Commander Jason Knox led the decommissioning ceremony, taking a moment to reflect on the ship’s contributions to the Navy’s growth and safety efforts.

“Throughout the life of the ship,” Cmdr. Knox remarked, “the Sailors that sailed Milwaukee led the way in training and operations that led to fleet improvements and culminated with operational success.”

The USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) held a unique distinction as the fifth United States Navy warship named after the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, proudly representing its community. However, the ship’s journey was marred by challenges from the outset.

decommissioning ceremony
(Image source: DVIDS)

Just twenty days after its commissioning in 2015, the LCS-5 suffered propulsion issues that necessitated a tow of more than 40 nautical miles to Virginia for repairs. Despite these early setbacks, the combat vessel found its purpose in testing anti-submarine tactics, focusing on deterrence and maritime security.

One of its notable achievements was the seizure of an estimated $27.4 million worth of cocaine during interdiction missions in March, which also led to the detention of three individuals. These accomplishments underscore the ship’s versatility and commitment to fulfilling its mission.

Flawed Design and Construction

The USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) was part of a broader initiative launched by the US Navy in 2002 to develop a fleet of littoral combat ships. Initially, the Navy ordered two monohull ships from Lockheed Martin, which were later designated as the Freedom-class littoral combat ships, following the lead ship, USS Freedom. Interestingly, odd-numbered US Navy littoral combat ships were built using the Freedom-class monohull design, while even-numbered ships adopted a competing design with trimaran hulls from General Dynamics, the Independence-class.

Milwaukee was the third Freedom-class littoral combat ship to be built, featuring additional stability improvements over the original Freedom design. These included a lengthened stern transom and buoyancy tanks added to enhance weight service and stability. The ship also incorporated automated sensors to facilitate conditions-based maintenance, aiming to reduce crew overwork and fatigue issues experienced by USS Freedom on her first deployment.

Laid down in October 2011 at Marinette Marine in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee LCS was launched in December 2013 and commissioned in November 2015. During pre-commissioning acceptance trials in 2015, the ship generated waves exceeding five feet tall near Door County’s Chambers Island, damaging more than 40 boats. Subsequently, the Coast Guard’s investigation concluded without any enforcement action against the parties involved.

The Unfulfilled Promise

Milwaukee, upon commissioning, was expected to bring improvements in various systems and mission modules compared to the first two Littoral Combat Ships, USS Freedom and USS Independence. One significant upgrade was the specially designed waterjets that replaced the commercial versions used on previous ships. Lockheed Vice President Joe North had expressed confidence in Milwaukee, declaring that the Lockheed LCS design was “done, locked, and stable” after numerous changes from USS Fort Worth and USS Freedom. Unfortunately, the ship’s mission modules failed to deliver as anticipated.

The culmination of challenges, including combing gear failures and a less than eight-year service life, ultimately led to the LCS’ decommission.

Uncertain Horizons: The Fate of USS Milwaukee (LCS-5)

While the USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) has been decommissioned, no official announcement has been made regarding its placement in reserve. In the past, mothballing efforts were initiated for two of the LCS program ships, with USS Freedom (LCS-1), the lead ship of the Freedom-class craft, now in reserve status. The fate of Milwaukee remains uncertain, and its retirement serves as a reminder of the complexities and uncertainties faced in the evolution of naval vessels.

USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) Decommissions (Image source: DVIDS)

In closing, the USS Milwaukee’s brief but eventful service history is a testament to the challenges and achievements of modern naval operations. Its retirement, alongside other littoral combat vessels, reflects the Navy’s commitment to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of its fleet, even when faced with unforeseen challenges. While the future may hold different destinies for these ships, their legacies will continue to shape the Navy’s approach to maritime security and defense.