The littoral combat ship Freedom transits the South China Sea on June 19. (MC1 Cassandra Thompson/Navy)
The Navy’s first forward-deployed littoral combat ship left 7th Fleet on Tuesday, ending a nearly nine-month visit filled with major milestones and mostly minor glitches that kept the ship pierside in its Singapore home-away-from-home longer than expected.
The Freedom, expected back in San Diego by the end of the year, arrived in 7th Fleet on March 20 and has participated in multiple joint exercises, made port visits throughout the region, and assisted in the recent disaster-relief efforts in the Philippines, according to a Navy news release. It’s also achieved a series of firsts for the class — its crew swap in August was the first for a forward-deployed LCS, and a member of the crew that swapped out, Boatswain’s Mate Seaman (SW) Ricky Jones, became the first sailor to earn a warfare qualification aboard an LCS.
Other news from the deployment wasn’t as positive:
■ In April, the crew discovered seawater in the lube oil system that protects the ship’s propulsion gears, sidelining it in Singapore. The next month, sediment in the lube oil system forced Freedom to return to port.
■ The ship lost propulsive power while operating near Singapore in July and had to return there for repairs.
■ Sailors discovered three feet of water in the bilge Oct. 20, deposited there by a ruptured seawater service system pipe.
■ Less than a week later, seawater fouled the ships’ hydraulic system, a problem similar to one Freedom experienced two years earlier, and prevented a scheduled underway.
“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, head of 7th Fleet, said in a Navy release.
No replacement for Freedom has been named, but the third LCS, Fort Worth, is set to deploy next year and is the likely choice. Coronado is expected to make several East Coast port visits in early 2014 before traveling to the West Coast where it will be commissioned in Coronado, Calif.
Whatever LCS takes over will operate under a new manning system, Navy officials said over the summer, with three full crews for every two LCSs instead of two crews per ship.