USS Gabrielle Giffords Still Missing Cruise Missile 9 Months After Firing One

The U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords
The U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords

Military enthusiasts around the world have been surprised to note that the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Gabrielle Giffords is still operating in the South China Sea with one of her RGM-184A pods still not reloaded after expending one in October 2019.

The USS Gabrielle Giffords fired one of her eight RGM-184A missiles as part of a sinking exercise conducted in the Pacific off the coast of Guam.

She fired the missile at the decommissioned frigate Oliver Hazard Perry on the 1st October, 2019. Since then she has continued to operate with only seven missiles loaded instead of her full complement of eight.

The Navy has consistently stated that the Mk 87 Mod 0 weapons system would provide a firepower boost to both class of LCS vessels, so it is puzzling to military aficionados why the USS Gabrielle Giffords is still operating without one of these, seemingly important, components.

The U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords
The U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords

The visibly empty canister raises questions as to the US Navy’s commitment to keep these vessels fully armed and its ability to support and resupply these systems.  The Gabrielle Giffords is the only LCS type vessel that is currently operationally deployed armed with the Naval Strike Missile.

The Gabrielle Giffords is deployed with the US 7th Fleet, who declined to respond to questions regarding the resupply of a pod for the NSM launchers, since it was used in October last year.

In a statement, Navy Lieutenant Joe Keiley, a spokesperson for the U.S. Seventh Fleet, told The War Zone, “USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) is conducting routine operations in the South China Sea.

Through continued presence in the region, the U.S. Navy supports transparency, the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, the principles that underpin security and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific, so that all nations in the region may benefit.

U.S. Navy forces will continue to fly, sail and operate in the international waters of the South China Sea at our discretion and in accordance with maritime norms and international law, demonstrating the wide range of naval capability we have available in the Indo-Pacific.”

USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), on patrol in the South China Sea, June 2020.
USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), on patrol in the South China Sea, June 2020.

The statement made no reference to the fact that all the photographs released of the vessel clearly show that gaping hole at the rear of the top right hand canister of the NSM launcher, situated closest to the superstructure of the Gabrielle Giffords.  It is proven that this was the missile fired at the Oliver Hazard Perry on the 1st October, 2019.

This hole is clear evidence that the canister is empty, as loaded canisters have their rocket motors covered by a plug that protects the missile from the elements.

If the canister, is in fact loaded, and the plug is missing then the components inside the rocket motor are at risk of being damaged by the elements. The missile will not fly correctly if this is the case.

in an interview about the NSM Program, with USNI News in September 2019, Navy Rear Admiral Casey Moton, the Program Executive Officer for Unmanned and Small Combatants, said that the program would be a game changer and that the addition of these missile meant that LCS vessels could no longer be ignored.

It is really confusing, that if the Navy have their logistical systems in place to resupply these missiles, and the Gabrielle Giffords is currently in Singapore, where she can be resupplied, why has this not happened?

The Gabrielle Giffords has been deployed to current world hot-spots  in the South China Sea and the Navy has been at pains to emphasise the importance and capability of this class of LCS, especially since the vessels have had the NSM system in place.

It also raises questions about the present state of the Navy’s supporting infrastructure and logistics chains for the NSMs, as well as just how many missiles the service has inventory right now, which could be a relatively small number still.

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Gabrielle Giffords is forward-deployed in Singapore, where she could readily reload if stocks of RGM-184As were available.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE