The littoral combat ship USS Freedom will be ready for its deployment next year, the Navy says, although it acknowledged the ship didn't get a completely clean bill of health.
It's still suffering from some of the oft-discussed problems its crew has discovered in the years since its commissioning, but nothing so serious the Navy can't get it squared away in time for its planned 10-month trip to Singapore and the Western Pacific.
The Board of Inspection and Survey "found Freedom fit for service and on an appropriate readiness glide slope,” said Vice Adm. Richard Hunt, the head of Naval Surface Forces, in an announcement. “There are clearly identified issues to work on in the Post Shakedown Availability (PSA) this July, many of which were known, some which were new as is expected in a special trial. Freedom is solid, all of the issues are fixable, and none of the issues would prevent her from deployment this spring.”
During the Special Trial, the ship and crews were rigorously evaluated. Main propulsion and the electrical plant were fully exercised for hours. The ship’s combat systems were stressed to verify full tactical capability. Communication systems were demonstrated at long range, and deck equipment used to the maximum extent. During the second day in port, inspectors conducted a space-by-space survey, verifying Navy technical standards were fully met, and noting discrepancies for correction if they were not. The ship’s documentation and safety programs were also fully evaluated to ensure both the crew and ship’s equipment are kept safe. “The deficiencies will be corrected and Freedom will stay on the path to deployment,” said Hunt.He went even further in an extensive telephone interview with the commodore of the naval press flotilla, Christopher P. Cavas of Defense News. Hunt described the Freedom's successes and challenges in great detail, boasting about its performance in a crash-back drill, when a crew takes a ship up to speed and then reverses its engines in a major test of its propulsion plant. He also acknowledged that the Freedom's stern doors are still admitting water and causing rust, and that inspectors could not test the Freedom's boat-launch equipment because the hydraulics were not working.
But the fleet will fix those and other problems, Hunt said -- the Navy's point is, no matter what California Rep. Jackie Speier and POGO and AvWeek's Michael Fabey all say, the Freedom is not a lemon of the seas. It's a "WAR-ship!" and ready, at long last, to go out and seek its fortune.
LCS-builder Lockheed Martin also was very pleased.
“Completion of INSURV’s recent special trial onboard USS Freedom means that she has passed another critical milestone and remains on schedule for her spring deployment to Singapore," said a statement from Joe North, the company's vice president of Littoral Ship Systems. "Freedom has a sound design, and our team remains pro-active on utilizing all lessons learned from the lead ship testing, to incorporate into the future Freedom variants, thus decreasing costs and improving efficiencies.”
At one time, the Navy might have been able to answer all its critics by releasing INSURV's actual report about inspectors' visit to the ship, but those documents are classified. Adm. Jonathan Greenert, now chief of naval operations, ordered them kept secret in 2009 when he was head of Fleet Forces Command, because if the Chinese found out that a certain gator's soft-serve ice cream machine was inoperative, game over. INSURV reports had been public documents for decades, available under the Freedom of Information Act. The classification decision had nothing whatsoever to do with embarrassing reports by Cavas and others about the poor material condition of ships in the surface force. Absolutely nothing to do with that. That's crazy!
So as it stands, the Navy finds itself in an absurd situation of its own making: Hunt wants to prove to the many LCS skeptics that the Freedom is in fighting shape. He can't reveal the document that says so, which would be as simple as forwarding a PDF. Instead, the Navy must describe the contents of an ostensibly classified report. In fact, a three-star admiral is doing so. Maybe the Navy will do it again if INSURV inspectors once again find that cruisers and destroyers are in such bad condition they can't fight, or their Aegis systems -- the key to the European missile defense shield -- are at low readiness. Then again, maybe not.