After returning to San Diego Dec. 23, 2013 following its historic maiden deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations, USS Freedom (LCS 1) started off the year with post-deployment maintenance and upkeep. On Jan. 15, a group of three ensigns assigned to Crew 102 became the first ensigns in the Navy to earn their surface warfare officer (SWO) qualification on board an LCS platform. Sailors aboard Freedom demonstrated the future concept of operations (CONOPS) for manned and unmanned helicopters aboard littoral combat ships during an underway off the coast of San Diego April 25-May 16, in preparation for an initial deployment of the aircraft later this year. Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet and Commander, Carrier Strike Group 15, formerly known as Commander, Strike Force Training Pacific, coordinated the demonstration aboard Freedom with both the manned, multi-mission MH-60R Seahawk and the MQ-8B Fire Scout, a vertical take-off unmanned aerial vehicle, operating together. The demonstration included one MH-60R and one MQ-8B both flown by Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35, Detachment 1, aboard Freedom with a surface warfare (SUW) mission package installed. SUW provides fleet protection from small boats and other asymmetrical threats. The event informed the fleet on the status of the “system of systems” integration for the USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) that began Nov. 17.
Nearly 2,000 San Diego residents and tourists stood in line in order to make their way on board the littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) while the vessel was moored at the B Street Pier in downtown San Diego, Feb. 12-13. The community outreach event, sponsored by Commander, Naval Surface Force U.S. Pacific Fleet, focused on public tours designed to let visitors see firsthand the unique capabilities of the Navy’s littoral combat ship program. On May 20, Independence successfully completed a test event with the ship’s Mk 110 57 millimeter gun. Held at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, Point Mugu Range, the test demonstrated Independence’s surface warfare capabilities by engaging a stationary target using the ship’s core combat system. As part of the test plan, Independence crew members tracked a surface balloon, also known as a Killer Tomato, with SAFIRE, the ship’s electro-optical/infrared camera, and the Sea Giraffe radar prior to engaging the target with the 57 mm gun. During the summer, Independence operated off the coast of Hawaii as part of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise, from June 26 to Aug. 1. During RIMPAC 2014, the Independence crew conducted gunfire exercises, tactical maneuvering, search and seizure boarding, and multi-ship air defense, anti-submarine and surface warfare exercises. Prior to RIMPAC, Independence was conducting testing and evaluation of the ship’s Mine Countermeasures (MCM) mission module of the coast of San Diego. For their participation in RIMPAC, the ship shifted to its Surface Warfare (SUW) mission module, a change that exhibited one of the primary strengths of LCS.