CELEBES SEA (NNS) -- Littoral combat ships have the unique ability to be part of customizable surface warfare, mine warfare or anti-submarine warfare mission packages, providing fleet commanders significant capability and flexibility.
Currently deployed to the 7th Fleet area of responsibility in support of the Indo-Asia-Pacific rebalance, littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) is embarked with a surface warfare mission package operated by the "Shepherds" of Surface Warfare Mission Package, Det. 3.
"There are three different types of mission packages in the LCS program," said Lt. Cmdr. Jason Nelson, officer in charge of the "Shepherds." "The surface warfare, mine countermeasures or anti-submarine warfare mission packages allow these ships to have flexibility based on the operating environment it may be going into. This adds capabilities to enable the ship to execute missions for specific geographic areas like Southeast Asia."
The surface warfare mission package includes two six-member visit, board, search and seizure teams, two 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boats, two 30mm Mark 50 gun systems and an aviation detachment that includes one MH-60R Seahawk helicopter and one MQ-8B unmanned aircraft system.
When combined with the LCS hull's speed, shallow draft and the fixed 57mm gun and rolling airframe missile launcher, these additional capabilities make Fort Worth an ideal fit for maritime security operations.
"The ship itself doesn't have these capabilities on its own," Nelson said. "Our job is to bring that to an LCS ship."
Though customizable, Fort Worth will employ the surface warfare package for the entirety of its 16-month deployment.
"Mission packages are rotatable and can be swapped out based on new needs," added Nelson. "It does take some time and coordination, but it can be done in about a week or so."
Using the 3-2-1 manning concept the surface warfare mission package detachment, along with the embarked aviation detachment from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35, rotate along with the core crew, currently LCS Crew 104, about every four months. The 3-2-1 manning concept allows Fort Worth to deploy longer without wearing out the crews and detachments.
"Once our mission is done with Crew 104, the crew will go take another mission and the "Shepherds" will go with a different crew on another LCS to execute a different mission," said Nelson.
Surface Warfare Mission Package, Det. 3, is comprised of 19 sailors and includes gunner's mates, enginemen, boatswain's mates and fire controlmen, according to Chief Fire Controlman William Stanford, leading chief petty officer of the "Shepherds."
Prior to reporting to the detachment, all sailors go through a six-month 'Train to Qualify' process in order to obtain the skills required to support the SUW mission. The majority of the sailors in the detachment have completed VBSS training that includes extensive firearms training, marksmanship, defensive tactics and free climbing.
Additionally, boatswain's mates and enginemen must complete coxswain's school to learn to drive the 11-meter RHIBs, he said.
Just like their aviation detachment shipmates, the "Shepherds" have integrated well with Fort Worth Crew 104 and support the optimal manning concept inherent to the LCS.
"What would normally take twenty people to do, we do it with ten, and we feel pretty proud of that," said Stanford. "What makes Surface Warfare Mission Package, Det. 3 very unique to this platform is our cohesiveness. We work very well together as a team, but the joy we take in working together as a small unit is something we like to spread throughout the ship. We like to integrate with the crew and help out with any and every evolution they have, whether it's cleaning, sea and anchor or man overboard, we like to be the first on the scene and the first to help out."
Fort Worth, a Freedom-class LCS currently en route to Southeast Asia, will build on lessons learned from USS Freedom's (LCS 1) 2013 deployment to the Asia-Pacific and will increase LCS operations in the region by visiting more ports, engaging more regional navies during exercises like Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training, and expanding LCS capabilities with tools like the Fire Scout.
The U.S. 7th Fleet conducts forward-deployed naval operations in support of U.S. national interests in the Indo-Asia-Pacific area of operations. As the U.S. Navy's largest numbered fleet, 7th Fleet interacts with 35 other maritime nations to build partnerships that foster maritime security, promote stability and prevent conflict.