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ABOARD THE USS FREEDOM

Cmdr. Patrick Thien, the commanding officer of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-1) USS Freedom, bristles at the thought that he would take it easy on his ship’s engines and generators.

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“I don’t baby anything,” he said as the ship approached the Hawaiian coast Dec. 13 for a few days at Pearl Harbor before heading on to San Diego, marking the end of Freedom’s first Western Pacific deployment.

Thien notes that a Friday the 13th port call may have tested fates a bit. But some maintain that Thien may have pushed his luck anyway, running the Freedom’s propulsion and power plants as needs demand instead of “babying” the equipment.

After all, outages and other plant issues knocked out Freedom’s power or sidelined the vessel during the transit out to the Western Pacific or while the ship was in Singapore.

The Navy made some fixes in Singapore, Thien says. Some new equipment. A bit of an overhaul.

“But we did not run the ship any differently coming back than I have at any time,” he says.  And the ship had none of the same issues on the return trip it had on the way out.

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During a tour of the engine room, he yells above the noise. “Running like tops now!”

The work done on the engines and generators, as well as other maintenance, will help the Navy revise LCS concept of operations (conops) for future deployments for the rest of the fleet.

Back up on the bridge, Thien takes his captain’s chair to scan the coast and waters ahead for submarines, other ships and any other maritime traffic that could mar the Freedom’s entry to the port.

As the name says, Freedom is a littoral ship. It’s meant to navigate coastal areas like this with ease. And before commanding the ship, Thien had spent some time at the helm of Coastal Patrol vessels. He knows his way around. “It’s like driving a car,” he says.

Thien liked what he saw taking the Freedom out for a deployment test spin in the Western Pacific. The LCS is meant to be more compatible with other ships that make up most of the fleets of Asia-Pacific partners and allies – and the vessel lived up to its promise, the commanding officer says as tugs help maneuver the vessel to the pier. Freedom doesn’t need tugs, but Thien likes to use them.

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Despite the early deployment  operational issues, he says, the ship was still able to participate in exercises with other navies as well as help provide humanitarian aid to the Philippines after the country was ravaged by a typhoon.

The ship proved, he says, it can do what it is meant to do.

Thien points out the ship already is doing more than expected in some ways. There’s nothing in the conops about rigging an LCS-equipped helicopter to provide aid in a disaster as Freedom did on its deployment.

The Navy is marking the Freedom’s deployment as a win. The ship worked with the navies of U.S. partners and allies, and it gathered and yielded data for future ships for future deployments.

But the ship does not yet have a full mission set of equipment for the surface warfare missions it was deployed to do – the Navy has yet to choose a missile to complete that package.

Furthermore, one of the key LCS conops is the ability to switch mission-module packages so it can relatively easily and quickly switch from surface to antisubmarine to countermine warfare tasks. There was no switching in the Western Pacific, and it will be some time before there is there or anyplace else, at least operationally.

Thien may not believe in babying Freedom’s engines, but LCS is still taking baby steps to reach its full potential.

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