The Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) is on its first overseas deployment to South East Asia. USS Freedom participated in its first bilateral naval exercise (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training — CARAT ) with the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) which concluded on June 23. CARAT is a series of bilateral naval exercises between the U.S. Navy and the armed forces of Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste.
USS Freedom’s performance at sea drew praise from participating navies.
CARAT Malaysia 2013 consisted of shore-based and at-sea training events designed to address shared maritime security concerns, develop relationships and enhance interoperability among participating forces. Participation in the CARAT exercise series is among the key milestones during USS Freedom's maiden rotational deployment to Southeast Asia.
During the at-sea phase, additional events highlighted USS Freedom's capabilities included an inbound fast attack craft drill; a search and rescue exercise with Freedom's MH-60R helicopter; and a visit, board, search and seizure drill with USS Freedom's embarked surface warfare mission package boarding team.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert visited USS Freedom in Singapore and stated the LCS fleet will have a significant role in the Pacific. LCS is a more affordable and equally effective alternative for missions that do not require a multi-mission, billion dollar-plus warship. Further, LCS will allow the Arleigh Burke class destroyer and Ticonderoga class cruiser to focus on the high-end missions they are designed to execute.
The LCS class is well-suited to operate with smaller navies due to its size and capabilities. The LCS class was created to maneuver in areas of water difficult for many larger Navy ships. Freedom is similar in size and capabilities to many RMN ships. These characteristics would also enable LCS to forward deploy and engage a broader range of partners than possible with traditional cruiser or destroyer ships.
The Navy believes the smaller LCS is more compatible with similar-sized ships used by other navies in the region. Often larger U.S. Navy ships cannot enter the ports of smaller countries due to the shallow draft of their harbors, and even for peaceful purposes, the presence of a large U.S. Navy combatant can be incongruent to smaller countries so LCS is perfectly suited to promote cooperation and stability in the Pacific region.
The littorals are becoming increasingly important to protect, according to the Navy Chief of Information Rear Adm. John F. Kirby. “The littorals are where products come to market; it’s where seaborne trade originates. Littorals include the major straits, canals and other maritime chokepoints so necessary to this traffic. It’s also where a whole lot of people live. Coastal cities are home to more than three billion people right now, a figure that some experts estimate will double by 2025,” Kirby said.
USS Freedom is a research and development (R&D) ship which will perform operational missions allowing the Navy to evaluate crew rotation and maintenance plans over its eight-month deployment. Preventive and planned maintenance is required every 25-30 days as part of the ship's operational cycle and the Navy is refining the LCS concept of operations.
As it was preparing for a vertical replenishment while operating off Singapore, USS Freedom briefly lost propulsion July 20. But the ship never lost power completely, and the crew was able to restore propulsion so the ship could finish the replenishment. But USS Freedom’s commanding officer decided it was prudent to return to base for evaluations and repairs. As an R&D platform and first ship in new class, glitches such as the one USS Freedom experienced are to be expected.
Innovative from its inception, the LCS program bypassed many of the traditional shipbuilding timelines by taking advantage of available commercial designs. The acquisition strategy sought to quickly produce a seaframe — the hull without the associated combat systems package — and deploy it to the fleet for Sailor experimentation with the goal to quickly produce a high-speed, modular-mission ship designed to operate in the littorals in support of U.S. maritime objectives. Designers envision a fast, shallow-draft ship ideally suited for operations within constrained littoral environments.
The initial two hulls represent significant departures from the normal shipbuilding path; in fact, the intent of the first two ships is to refine concept development, modularity, employment of off-board vehicles and conduct risk mitigation for follow-on flights in the ship class.
USS Freedom represents one of two hull designs. The Freedom class and Independence class — designed and built by two industry teams, respectively led by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics/Austal. The first of the mono-hulled USS Freedom class was delivered in September 2008, and the first aluminum trimaran-hulled USS Independence class was delivered to the Navy in December 2009.
Highly maneuverable, agile and mission-focused, LCS platforms are designed to employ reconfigurable modular mission packages that can be configured for three separate purposes: surfaces warfare, mine countermeasures or anti-submarine warfare. Mission packages are supported by detachments that will deploy manned and unmanned vehicles and sensors.
Modular mission packages can be configured for numerous operational needs including maritime interdiction, anti-drug operations, mine counter measures and anti-submarine warfare. Another advantage is that the ship can be updated with additional mission packages and more advanced weapons.
The ship’s battle management system, COMBATSS-21, provides a flexible, next-generation defense system that can be reconfigured for a specific threat in days. The self-defense suite integrates the radar, electro-optical infrared cameras, gunfire control system, countermeasures and short-range anti-air missiles, as well as a variety of missile, torpedo systems and naval guns. Freedom can act as a node to tie together sea, air and land assets should a crisis emerge.
USS Freedom’s “gold crew” consists of 91 Sailors to include mission package personnel and an aviation detachment to operate an embarked MH-60 Seahawk helicopter. Both LCS classes, Lockheed Martin’s Freedom-class and Austal Independence-class, can sail at more than 40 knots, for enhanced maneuverability. They also are equipped with a 57mm gun which is well-suited to small boat attacks. This is important because small boats continue to be a threat in shallow waters.
LCS crew members are part of an innovative manning concept that reduces crew size, requiring each Sailor to maintain high levels of proficiency in multiple fields. These "hybrid" Sailors are part of two rotational crews, blue and gold, designed to maximize ship operability. Midway through Freedom's deployment, a crew-swap will be conducted with her blue crew. Freedom will remain homeported in San Diego throughout its deployment to Southeast Asia.
USS Independence (LCS 2) has completed her first post-shakedown availability and is conducting mine warfare mission module developmental and operational tests. USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) is in post-shakedown availability. She will then conduct surface warfare mission module development and operational tests before her maiden operational deployment.
PCU Coronado (LCS 4) completed builder’s trials in May, and will prepare for acceptance trials and delivery latter this summer. Littoral Combat Ships 5 to 16 are under construction or contract. By the end of 2021, Navy expects to have 24 Littoral Combat Ships. The Navy’s long-range shipbuilding plan calls for a total of 52 Littoral Combat Ships to be completed by 2029. The LCS Program is managed by the Littoral Combat Ship Program Office, PMS 501, Program Executive Office, Littoral Combat Ships (PEO LCS).