On her maiden deployment, the Navy’s first littoral combat ship is carrying a “tailored” surface warfare package that includes maritime security boats, boarding team equipment and berthing modules.
The USS Freedom deployed to the waters surrounding Latin America to conduct counter trafficking operations and other security activities while en route to its new homeport of San Diego, Calif.
The littoral combat ship is the Navy’s newest class of surface combatants that was designed for operations near the shore. The fast, shallow-draft warships will carry one of three interchangeable mission packages that are geared for surface, mine and anti-submarine warfare.
USS Freedom’s deployment is happening two years earlier than the fleet had originally planned. Navy officials decided to task her with a maritime security mission in response to 4th Fleet demands for help in curtailing narcotics trafficking in the eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
Because the three mission packages are still in various stages of development, program officials have outfitted Freedom with an ad hoc package that combines elements of the surface warfare mission package with maritime security prototype modules, said Capt. Mike Good, program manager for LCS mission modules at the Navy’s littoral and mine warfare program executive office.
“We’re calling it a tailored surface warfare package,” he said.
The package includes the two 30mm guns from the surface warfare modules, an armed H-60S helicopter, two 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boats, two 12-person berthing modules and a collection of boarding team equipment ranging from flak jackets and small arms to grappling hooks. The Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment 407 will embark during the deployment.
USS Freedom can accommodate 75 people in permanent berthing — the 40 core crewmembers that operate the ship, the 20 sailors in the aviation detachment and the 15 sailors in the mission package.
Because of the extra personnel coming on board for the maritime intercept operations mission, program managers are adding two habitability modules to the package.
Housed in 20-foot by 8-foot by 8-foot containers, the modules each contain 12 racks that are similar to the berthing found on DDG-51 destroyers. Those modules will be placed in the mission bay and crews will have access to the ship’s facilities. Good added that his team is working on a separate container for future ships that will include heads and showers. But USS Freedom has ample facilities for all the crew, the ship’s first commanding officer insisted.
“Believe me, the shower head thing is absolutely a non-issue on that ship,” said Cmdr. Don Gabrielson. “Folks will go on board and say, ‘Holy moly, this is good living. There’s shower heads all over the place.’”
The craft division at Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock was a key partner in training the boat crews and developing the processes, manuals and procedures for launch, handling and recovery operations in the waterborne mission zone, Good told reporters at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium in Arlington, Va.
In the meantime, progress continues on the three primary mission packages. Each one went to sea last year for testing and evaluation, he said.
The surface warfare package includes the non-line-of-sight missile launcher, which is not part of the tailored package that is deployed aboard Freedom. Engineers are building the first NLOS prototype module that will include three of the container launch units, with 15 missiles in each, said Good. Once it is operational, it will proceed through a rigorous test-firing process. “We’re aggressively working NLOS with the Army, with Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to bring that shipboard, but it’s not there yet,” he said.
Last October, the mission package support facility at Port Hueneme, Calif., became operational. It serves as the hub for all of the mission package maintenance work, sustainment, as well as technical support for sailors. When a mission package is swapped out, all of its components will return to the facility for a fine-tooth comb assessment. Any repair work will be taken care of there so that the equipment is ready to embark on another LCS sea frame as the combatant commanders call for them, said Good.
“MPSF is up and running, ready to support the early deployment and forward for future mission package support as we go through test and evaluation and ultimately to future deployments with those packages,” said Good.
“We’re going to learn a lot from that deployment, as tough as it’s been to get that ship ready to go,” said Rear Adm. Raymond Spicer, assistant deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy.