USS Freedom arrives in Hawaii

USS Freedom arrives in Hawaii

PEARL HARBOR (HawaiiNewsNow) - It is the size a football field and travels up to 50 miles an hour in waters as shallow as 13 feet. We're talking about the U.S.S. Freedom and it is the first of the U.S. Navy's new fleet of Littoral Combat Ships.

The LCS platform brings speed, maneuverability, flexibility and power to the U.S. Pacific Fleet's near shore capabilities. The vessel's powerful "jet" propulsion system is similar to how a jet ski operates, said Navy officials. It is unique technology to Navy warships.

"It's like a Sea-Doo, but on steroids," said Operations Officer Lt. Commander, Charles Harris, who is a graduate of Oahu's Kalaheo High School and the U.S. Naval Academy.

"We're actually propelled by the water that we suck in and push out the end of the ship," Harris said.

"At 40 plus knots, our jet system can drain an Olympic size pool in 3 seconds," said Auxillary Officer Ensign Charlie Hasenbank during an interview on the ship's bridge.

At that top speed, said Harris, the wake can be used in a defensive and offensive manner, capable of capsizing smaller vessels from its powerful wake.

"The wake that we put over is almost equivalent to that of an aircraft carrier. It's impressive," said Harris.

"We're just a giant jet ski, hitting 40 plus knots, turning on dimes, and making wakes," said ship's engineer Petty Officer First Class Rob Carter of Boston.

The U.S.S. Freedom pulled into Pearl Harbor Monday morning and will depart Thursday to Guam, before arriving at its final destination in Singapore sometime next month.

The LCS are the only Navy warships driven by throttle, versus the traditional wheel at the helm.

When it comes to firepower, the 57 mm gun on the forward deck is equally impressive.

"It shoots 220 rounds a minute, when you compare it to other 5 inch guns that shoot around 20 rounds a minute," said Commander Timothy Wilke, Freedom's Commanding Officer.

Fifty-five LCS are planned for the Navy. Three, including the U.S.S Freedom have been built so far. Their purpose is to address the U.S. and her allies 21st century threats like piracy and terrorism.

According to Navy officials, one of the key features of these littoral combat ships is the ability to rapidly deploy personnel. Inside the Freedom's Waterboard Mission Zone located at the stern of the ship there are two 11 meter rigid-hull inflatable boats called "RHIB" boats. The can carry a 12 person boarding team, get them out the door quickly so they can conduct anti-piracy and maritime interdiction missions.

At around $650 million apiece, the U.S.S. Freedom and 3 others like her will rotate deployments from San Diego to Singapore. It's part of the Obama Administration's new Asia-Pacific strategy, refocusing efforts in the region versus the Middle East.

Another of the LCS's unique capabilities is that it can switch out equipment and manpower in order to meet its war fighting needs in surface warfare, submarine warfare and mine countermeasures.

"Forty percent of this ship's volume is reconfigurable," said Cmdr. Wilke. "If you need us to do a surface threat, which is what we're currently manned up for, we can man up for that. "If there's a mine concern, we would pull into port and swap out our mission packages to handle any mine threat."

Wilke added that, "We don't know what kind of threat we'll meet 5 to 10 years down the road, so instead of having a new class of ship, you'd design new mission packages to meet what ever current threat that might be."

A combat Seahawk helicopter (MH-60 R) loaded with firepower travels with them.

"The right hand extended pylon that you see behind me, is brand new to this helicopter," said pilot Lieutenant Junior Grade Grant Daiss of the Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM-73).

"Traditionally, its been on the left hand side of the aircraft. So this is the maiden deployment with this right hand sided pylon.

And that means more hellfire missiles and torpedoes at the ready.

"So, we have basically doubled the amount of ordnance the aircraft can carry," Daiss stated.

Freedom's historic black and grey camoflage paint job, the only one of its kind in the Navy, completes its combat look that sent sailors to the rails of their ships when she pulled into port.

"As we came in and moored here in at Bravo pier, we'd watch the sailors pour out of the ships here just to see this distinctive paint job, new class of ship. And it was an awesome sight to know what this ship means to the Navy," said Harris.

But now comes the true test, say military observers. To deploy the Freedom and her crew in order to test out those capabilities. And to see if the ship can handle any real threat she was built to battle.

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