The 10-month cruise to Singapore just finished by the littoral combat ship Freedom will be expanded to 16 months for the next LCS. (MC2 Sean Furey / US Navy)
WASHINGTON — Having just wound up the first overseas deployment of a littoral combat ship (LCS) at 10 months, the US Navy is planning for an even longer cruise the next time around.
“It’s going to be about 16 months,” Vice Adm. Tom Copeman, commander of naval surface forces, said Jan. 6.
He spoke to reporters from his base at San Diego to discuss the cruise of the Freedom (LCS 1), which returned Dec. 23 from its deployment to Singapore.
The longer cruise, to be made starting in the late fall by the Freedom’s sister ship Fort Worth (LCS 3), will involve “significantly more crew turnovers other than the one we experienced with Freedom,” Copeman said. “That will give us longer-term flex in locations other than the forward operating base. We restricted LCS 1 primarily to Singapore, but we probably need to branch out and try other areas.”
The Fort Worth was commissioned in August 2012 as the second ship of the Lockheed Martin-produced Freedom class. A 16-month cruise means the ship will likely spend all of 2015 forward-deployed to the western Pacific, and won’t return to her home port of San Diego until the late winter or early spring of 2016.
The standard crew of an LCS also is being enlarged, Copeman said.
Ten additional sailors were added to the Freedom’s 40-sailor crew and 15-sailor mission detachment before the 2013 deployment, a change that will become permanent.
“The additional people let us have a 4-section versus a 3-section watch bill,” he said. “That gave the crew more rest — fatigue has been a problem in the past. It also gave the ships more ability to do corrective maintenance.”
As a result, “the additional 10 people is going to become a permanent fixture” on both LCS variants, Copeman said. “I’ve signed off on in it and we’ve submitted it as a budget issue.”
While several equipment issues during the deployment kept the Freedom in port for repairs, Copeman noted that maintenance improved over the course of operations, so that the “ship was available more than 70 percent of the time, on par with most of the rest of the fleet.”
The support approach for the Freedom evolved during the deployment and will continue to be analyzed, he noted.
“One of the takeaways is that we have to be more flexible in our maintenance philosophy,” he said. “As the deployment wore on the maintenance requirements got less and less and we became more efficient. As we get two or three of these ships operating out of forward operating bases the per capita cost of doing the maintenance is going to go down, because the people will be there, and we’ll become more efficient.”
Overall, Copeman said, “I’m pretty positive about the future and how we’ve got the concept of the maintenance mix between contractors and Navy sailors.”
Asked about any deployment plans for the Independence-class LCS variant, Copeman demurred.
“It’ll be some time post-2015,” after testing with the mine countermeasures mission package, he said, noting that Navy commanders have not put together a deployment schedule for the ships.
“It’s certainly going to be a deployable asset, and we intend on deploying it in the future,” he declared.