The Navy is readying the USS Freedom (LCS-1) for its initial deployment in early 2010, making sure the modified surface warfare package and the crew are prepared as the ship heads off to join the 4th Fleet and eventually transit to San Diego, according to a Navy official. Currently, Freedom, built by a Lockheed Martin [LMT]-led team, is wrapping up testing off the Virginia Capes, Capt. Michael Taylor, commander, LCS class squadron (LCSRON), told reporters during a teleconference Friday. Freedom will then enter into a four-week availability, followed by a bit more testing and additional training for the gold crew as it prepares to deploy to the U.S. Southern Command area of operations, he said.
In addition to the core capabilities that Freedom brings, including self defense from surface and air threats, the Navy intends to use Freedom in a variety of ways to test her mission capability, Taylor said. "For that portion of the deployment, the focus has been on surface surveillance and air surveillance, so she can contribute to building the picture that's down there and feeding that into the combatant commander, as well as the potential to do boardings from the visit, board, search and seizure standpoint," he said. Freedom will also be used for theater security operations both in port and at sea in terms of operationally doing exchanges with other navies or operating with other navies while she is down there, Taylor added. In October, the Navy decided to deploy Freedom two years ahead of schedule (Defense Daily, Oct. 15).
Earlier this summer, Chief of Naval Operation (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead directed both his staff and U.S. Fleet Forces Command to look at an early, short-term deployment for LCS- 1 (Defense Daily, June 15). For her first operational tour, Freedom will be outfitted with the first generation surface warfare (SuW) mission package that contains two 30mm guns, but will not include the Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) missile system being developed by the Army, Taylor noted. "That will be in a future spiral of the SuW mission package." But the SuW mission package will have capabilities specifically put onboard for this deployment, he said. "It's kind of the enhanced SuW mission package with the [maritime security] module."
The SuW package will carry with it capabilities needed to conduct maritime security operations, including two boarding teams, two boat crews and two rigid inflatable boats. But there are no plans now to make the maritime security module a fourth mission package, he added. "At this point, it is a subset of the SuW [package] but in future iterations it could actually be a stand alone package," Taylor noted. "A lot depends in terms of where you are going to send the ship and what the requirements are for the ship when it goes there." That's the whole purpose of LCS with the plug and play mission modules, Taylor said. "You can put on what you [need] too for that particular deployment and then, if you need to, you can even change it out midway as it goes forward."
For Freedom's initial deployment, the Navy wanted to evaluate the SuW mission package as well as with the maritime security module, Taylor said. "That's why we have gone this route for this deployment." The Navy has also received the first Mine Countermeasure and Anti-Submarine Warfare mission packages, he noted. Taylor said the Navy is looking to take delivery this month of General Dynamics' [GD] Independence (LCS-2) and to hold the commissioning Jan. 16, 2010, in Mobile, Ala. General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin are competing to build 55 LCS. "Following that, we will do a crew move aboard and look to sail away from Mobile in the late winter early spring time frame," he said. General Dynamics and Mobile-based Austal USA are still working through the completion of the construction, he added.
The ship will also have to go through a post delivery availability, Taylor noted. "I need to go down there and finish crew certification and that has to happen before the crew can sail her way," he said. "So at this point we are looking at sometime in March to do that. Probably the second half of March for crew certification and sail away."