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Despite problems, commander hails Pacific deployment of new combat ship

    The littoral combat ship USS Freedom is expected to stop at Pearl Harbor today on its way home to San Diego from a deployment to Singapore.
    U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. poses for a photo at his office in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. Harris said the first overseas deployment of the USS Freedom, the Navy's newest ship, demonstrated the U.S. commitment to focus on the Asia and Pacific region while also teaching the Navy lessons about maintaining the vessel. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

The first overseas deployment of a U.S. littoral combat ship has given the Navy valuable information as it works to deploy more of the vessels and rebalance itself toward a greater presence in Asia and the Pacific, the Navy’s Pacific Fleet commander said.

The USS Freedom encountered some mechanical problems that kept it in port for part of its recent eight-month assignment to Singapore, but Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. said that taught the Navy lessons it will apply when another ship of the same type deploys.

The Freedom is the first in a class of new vessels called littoral combat ships. They weigh less than half as much as a typical U.S. destroyer and carry a crew of fewer than 100 sailors.

They are small enough to move among Southeast Asia’s many islands and shallow waters, and their size also makes it easier for their sailors to train and interact with partner navies in Southeast Asia.

But the Freedom developed generator and computer issues in July and was sidelined by other problems in October and November, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported.

Harris said in an interview this week that the deployment gave the Navy a better idea of what parts will fail more often, and the ships will keep them on hand — in a “packup kit” that all ships and airplanes have — for quick repairs.

The Freedom deployed earlier than the shipbuilder and others wanted so the Navy could test it, he said.

“The Navy made a decision to send this thing out there early in order to learn all that. And I think we learned a lot. It’s going to make the next deployment that much better,” Harris said.

The Freedom is the first of several littoral combat ships the Navy plans to deploy to Singapore. The next one is expected to be the USS Fort Worth, which will head to Singapore in late 2014.

Singapore has agreed to allow the ships to refuel, restock on food and get other supplies. In a couple of years, the Navy plans to have two littoral combat ships in the region at a time. It ultimately hopes to have as many as four in the area.

“In the long run, we’re going to be very pleased with the whole platform class,” Harris said. “It’s important to Singapore, it’s important to us that we have the thing out there.”

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