The Navy’s first Littoral Combat Ship, the USS Freedom, is on its way to the Philippines to assist the relief effort and bring supplies to the typhoon-ravaged areas, service officials said.
The move marks the first disaster relief mission for the USS Freedom, the first-in-class of a planned fleet of LCS shallow-water, multi-mission ships under development by the Navy.
“Like other U.S. Navy ships supporting Operation Damayan, Freedom’s MH-60R helicopter is one of her most important [relief] assets. Freedom also carries ten pallets of [relief] supplies, including five pallets of hygienic supplies and five pallets of medical supplies,” a Navy statement said.
The USS Freedom arrived in Asia this past April and conducted various port visits in Singapore and Guam in support of the Navy’s Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy. In fact, the service plans to deploy as many as four LCS ships through Singapore as part of a broader effort to sustain a forward presence in the region, Navy officials said.
Rotational deployments of littoral combat ships will help the Navy sustain presence, expand access to vital waterways, and interact with littoral regions, a Navy official said.
“Since arriving in Southeast Asia in April, Freedom has worked with many regional navies that operate comparable-sized ships during a series of port visits, exercises, and exchanges,” a Navy statement said.
Although the USS Freedom in configured with a surface warfare mission package and is not configured for humanitarian missions, the ship does have assets and technologies able to contribute to Operation Damayan, Navy officials said.
For instance, the Freedom’s shallow water capability will allow helicopters faster access to land for the purpose of delivering supplies to typhoon-damaged areas.
“Operating offshore, the Navy is uniquely suited to provide support during disasters, and USS Freedom is just one piece of the larger Navy relief effort ongoing in coordination with the government of the Philippines,” said Lt. Lauryn Dempsey, a Navy spokeswoman.
The USS Freedom has faced maintenance issues since first being deployed to Asia, Navy officials said. A cable designed to give the ship operator input regarding the angle or direction of the water jets wound up getting corroded, temporarily causing problems with the directional capabilities of the ship, a source familiar with LCS said. The part was fixed in Singapore a few weeks ago, the source said.
Also, the ship experienced problems with the ship service diesel generators, or SSDGs, which caused a temporary power outage during a trip to Guam this past summer.
The Navy’s Acquisition Executive, Sean Stackley, acknowledge the problem when speaking to a Congressional subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces this past summer.
In October of this year, a burst pipe caused three feet of water to flood the bilge area of the ship as well.
Officials familiar with the LCS program say many fixes have been put in place to address these problems and some maintenance challenges are expected and even routine for a “first-in-class” such as the LCS. Furthermore, LCS proponents explain that many of the “fixes” and adjustments made in response to these problems will inform the development and construction of subsequent LCS ships.
“These concerns are typical of Navy ships and happen over the course of deployments all the time,” said a source familiar with the LCS program.