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Enhancing regional security with littoral combat ships

A year has passed since the first of four planned United States Navy littoral combat ships (LCSs), USS Freedom, arrived in Singapore on an inaugural LCS deployment overseas. From April to November last year, Freedom operated throughout South-east Asia and conducted a series of port visits, exercises and exchanges with regional navies that operate comparably-sized frigates and corvettes.

Enhancing regional security with littoral combat ships

The USS Freedom was moored at Changi Naval Base when it arrived in Singapore last year, during the inaugural deployment overseas of a United States Navy littoral combat ship. Photo: Reuters

A year has passed since the first of four planned United States Navy littoral combat ships (LCSs), USS Freedom, arrived in Singapore on an inaugural LCS deployment overseas. From April to November last year, Freedom operated throughout South-east Asia and conducted a series of port visits, exercises and exchanges with regional navies that operate comparably-sized frigates and corvettes.

The ship hosted thousands of visitors from across the Asia-Pacific region when it was in port. And like many US Navy ships deployed to the US Seventh Fleet, it spent a lot of time at sea enhancing maritime security and stability throughout South-east Asia.

TAILOR-MADE FOR THE REGION

In the US, recent media reports reflect debates over the relevance of the LCS class in the Asia-Pacific region. Some reports attributed comments to anonymous officials who suggested the LCS might be better suited to the Middle East.

From my perspective, as a Seventh Fleet commander of naval forces in South-east Asia, the LCS is a perfect fit for this region and I look forward to future deployments of these ships, which will resume when USS Fort Worth is deployed later this year.

Quite simply, the LCS is tailor-made for South-east Asia, a region with many coastal and archipelagic states linked together by a dense network of shipping lanes and strategic waterways through which more than 50 per cent of global maritime trade passes.

With its speed, shallow draft and manoeuvrability, the LCS is ideal for this thriving littoral region. The LCS’ maritime security capabilities can help address illicit activities that persist at sea today and well into the future. As a dedicated asset rotationally deployed to South-east Asia, the LCS can go places other US Navy ships cannot, operating hull-to-hull with regional allies and partners, and be ready to provide a sustained naval presence when needed.

Although Freedom returned home to San Diego last December, we continue to receive positive feedback from a wide array of allies and partners across the region.

Indeed, from the early feedback received from government and military officials who toured the ship during port visits and exhibitions such as Singapore’s International Maritime Defence Exhibition to the commanding officers and sailors from regional navies who worked and operated alongside Freedom, the regional interest in this ship and the potential it represents has not wavered.

And the interest our South-east Asian neighbours share is not just a hunch on my part, but a sentiment I hear on my frequent travels throughout the region for training exercises and meetings.

When the subject of Freedom and follow-on LCS deployments comes up, my counterparts are encouraged to hear that each successive ship and rotation will be more advanced than the last. Moreover, they are comfortable with the size of the LCSs, which again, is comparable with many of their own ships. In fact, the most consistent questions I hear from partners are: “When is the next LCS coming?” and “When can it make a port call and conduct exercises here?” The resounding takeaway has been that my regional counterparts are excited and eager to work with these ships.

LOOKING AHEAD

I am pleased to note that Singapore is among those nations that most appreciate what Freedom had to offer. As noted in joint statements released by Singapore’s Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen and US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel in Washington last December, and more recently by Dr Ng and US Pacific Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear in Hawaii last month, senior leaders from both our countries are looking forward to Fort Worth’s deployment.

I join these leaders in my belief that the US Navy can and will build upon the lessons learned from Freedom’s deployment and incorporate regional feedback in follow-on deployments of LCSs to Singapore and South-east Asia.

Freedom has paved the way for Fort Worth this year and a third LCS next year. Like Freedom, Fort Worth will be deployed with a surface warfare mission package that permits the ship’s crew and the fleet commander to operate with confidence in the littorals.

This configuration includes two 11m rigid hull inflatable boats with boarding teams and an MH-60R helicopter, and now a Fire Scout vertical take-off unmanned aerial vehicle to enhance maritime domain awareness and information sharing.

Fort Worth will also have enhanced operational reach though greater fuel capacity, a more flexible maintenance schedule and access to additional logistics support facilities.

Because Fort Worth’s deployment will last six months longer than Freedom’s, portions of the 2014 and 2015 LCS deployments will overlap, providing the presence of two LCSs simultaneously.

As maritime forces in South-east Asia continue to expand relationships, the US Navy needs more LCSs in this “region on the rise”. Indeed, as more LCSs are deployed here to promote regional peace and prosperity, I can confidently predict that both this class of ship and the region share bright futures ahead.

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