PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) — 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 the area.
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."
Harris reaffirmed the Navy's commitment to the "rebalance" of U.S. attention toward Asia and the Pacific, saying the service was sending its best and most advanced equipment to the region.
He noted the Navy's new P-8 Poseidon, an airplane that scours the seas for submarines and surface ships, just went to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, on its first operational deployment. The P-8 been flying missions in the East China and South China seas, he said.
The Navy is also basing three of its newest Virginia-class submarines at Pearl Harbor.
"The Navy is sending our best and our newest and greatest platforms to the Pacific. This is not accident," Harris said.