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First littoral combat ship arrives in Singapore

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.

SEAN FUREY/U.S. NAVY

By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 18, 2013

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — The U.S. Navy’s first littoral combat ship USS Freedom arrived in Singapore on Thursday to officially begin its maiden overseas deployment.

The first-in-class ship departed San Diego on March 1 and had port visits in Hawaii, Guam and the Philippines en route to its new home, according to a Logistics Group Western Pacific statement.

The Freedom will participate in exercises, visit foreign ports, conduct maritime security operations and allow the LCS Council — a working group established in August by chief of naval operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert — to evaluate crew rotation, maintenance plans and the program as a whole.

“We plan on spending most of our time here in Southeast Asia — this will be Freedom’s neighborhood for the next eight months,” commanding officer Cmdr. Timothy Wilke said in the statement. “We are eager to get out and about, work with other regional navies and share best practices during exercises, port visits and maritime security operations.”

The LCS program has been under scrutiny since shortly after it was launched in 2002 to replace the Navy’s aging fleet of Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, Avenger-class mine countermeasure ships and Osprey-class coastal mine hunters. It was plagued by years of cost overruns and structural deficiencies that included hull cracks, corrosion and system failures.

The attention only intensified last month amid media reports that commander of naval surface forces Vice Adm. Tom Copeman had criticized the $440 million ships for lacking firepower. Two weeks later, a fire was reported aboard the LCS Coronado during sea trials.

Littoral combat ships have a shallow draft so they can operate where bigger ships cannot. They are fast and can be fitted with different mission modules, such as surface warfare, minesweeping and anti-submarine warfare, depending on the mission.

The Freedom arrives in Singapore fitted with a surface-warfare mission package and maritime-security module, Navy officials said. The 91 sailors include mission package personnel and an aviation detachment to operate an embarked MH-60 helicopter.

Halfway through its rotational deployment, the crew will be swapped out and commanded by Cmdr. Patrick Thien, the statement said.

The Freedom is slated to participate in the International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference in Singapore next month, the statement said. In the months that follow, the ship is scheduled to join other 7th Fleet units and regional navies in select phases of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training and Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training exercises.

“Freedom has met every milestone of this deployment on time and with the professionalism you would expect of U.S. Navy sailors,” Wilke said. “I’m proud of Freedom’s accomplishments to date, but I’m also looking forward to putting the ship through its paces over the next several months while deployed more than 8,000 miles from homeport.”

By the end of 2021, the Navy expects to have 24 littoral ships under contract, with 16 assigned to the Pacific Fleet.

burke.matt@stripes.com

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