ABOARD THE USS FREEDOM — Cmdr. Tim Wilke knows that getting the U.S. Navy’s first Littoral Combat Ship ( ) to Singapore for its initial Asian deployment in 2013 is only half the battle; sustaining the vessel overseas also will be a daunting task.
“It’s a given,” the Freedom’s commanding officer says. “Stuff is going to fail on an operating ship. It’s a matter of getting ahead of curve there based on the way we see the systems operating 20 hours from now, two days from now. When it’s going to go down, we’ll have to make sure we have the parts ready to go.”
The ship is outfitted with sensor suites designed to diagnose systems and parts and feed the data back to Navy program officials in Philadelphia to determine what upcoming maintenance may be needed.
“I’m looking forward to seeing . . . how that path works back to Philly,” Wilke says. “It’s predictive analysis. It works great now. But we’ll be flexing that concept, we’ll be pushing that forward.”
The design of the ship includes a weave of disparate — and often foreign-made — systems combined in the vessel in a way not done before, and it has been difficult in some cases to locate and buy parts, components and equipment for the ship. Being a new class of ships, LCS has yet to generate the kind of demand of other ship classes that have been in the Navy procurement system longer.
Procuring some parts could prove “problematic” in Singapore, Wilke says. But he quickly adds, “We have pretty good data on what high-fail-rate items we have.” Ship officers have become adept at stockpiling high-fail-rate parts for all ships in the fleet, he says.
Bolstering the parts and maintenance effort is a shoreside database filled with information culled from operations with the Freedom and its sister ship, the(LCS-2).
“We have a shared database,” says Cmdr. Dave Back, commanding officer of the Independence. The shoreside LCS team has become skilled at parsing the data and telling ship crews what maintenance is needed, he says.
Paving that maintenance and logistics trail will be critical to Freedom’s success in Singapore. “I’m confident we’ve got all of the policies, procedures, spare parts [and] the right people in place to make this a success,” says Vice Adm. Thomas Copeman, commander of naval surface forces and the U.S. Pacific Fleet. “Like any ship, something might break. But we think the program and our repair procedures and how we move parts around and how we get tech reps, as required, in there is plenty good enough to meet any contingency.”
The Navy also has created a new and powerful LCS Council of top admirals charged with, among other things, deploying the ship to Singapore and sustaining it there. “It takes a lot of coordination,” Copeman says. “One of the reasons the [chief of naval operations] brought together the LCS Council was to get the right amount of focus between the acquisition community, this [Pacific fleet] community, requirements and people who can pull the monetary strings. We are talking to the fleet to make sure they understand what we need and what’s available and within the art of the possible.”