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Littoral combat ship USS Freedom to stop at Pearl Harbor on way home

In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, the USS Freedom littoral combat ship pulls into Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The USS Freedom, which is stopping in Hawaii on its way to a deployment to Singapore, has advantages bigger U.S. Navy ships lack.

A controversial — and hard-to-miss — ship that may become a mainstay of the Navy in the Pacific is expected to return to Pearl Harbor today for a port call on its way home from a groundbreaking deployment to Singapore.

The camouflage-painted littoral combat ship USS Freedom is expected to be here through Monday after becoming the first ship in its class to make the "rotational" deployment.

Freedom, home-ported in San Diego, conducted a crew swap in August on the nearly 10-month deployment, which included a stop in Hawaii in March on the way out to Southeast Asia.

The Navy plans to have four of the speedy, shallow-water vessels in Singapore by 2016, and officials have repeatedly touted the LCS (for "littoral combat ship") as a sign of U.S. commitment to Asia.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel met Thursday with Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen at the Pentagon and reaffirmed the countries' long-standing defense relationship, the Defense Department said.

The next rotational deployment of an LCS to Singapore will be made by the USS Fort Worth in late 2014, followed by the third LCS deployment in late 2015, it was announced.

A lot is riding on the LCS, which Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in 2012 was "going to be one of the backbones of the fleet."

But the vessels also have attracted their share of critics, who question the combat survivability of the lightly armored aluminum-and-steel design.

Fifty-two littoral combat ships are planned, although that number may be cut. The vessels eventually could be based in Hawaii, the Navy said.

The ships, with interior spaces that are 40 percent reconfigurable, are designed to defeat "anti-access" threats such as mines, quiet diesel submarines and fast surface craft, depending on the mission package that's aboard.

Two types of the ship are being built: the 378-foot Freedom variant with a steel mono-hull and aluminum superstructure, and the 419-foot Independence variant, an aluminum trimaran.

"We put Freedom to the test over the past several months and learned a great deal about how to operate littoral combat ships forward alongside our regional partners and allies in a challenging operational environment," Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, commander of U.S. 7th Fleet, said in a Navy news story.

Maintenance issues sidelined the ship at least three times.

"As we've said before, lead ships are difficult. One of the main reasons for this deployment was to push the ship and crews hard, and to identify areas that required improvement," Rear Adm. Cindy The­baud, commander of the Navy's Logistics Group Western Pacific, said last month.

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