By Geoff Fein

Over the remaining nine days, Lockheed Martin [LMT] and the Navy will put the  Freedom (LCS-1) through her paces preparing the vessel for acceptance trials slated to begin next month, a company official said.

Freedom, the first of the new class of Littoral Combat Ships designed to carry interchangeable mission packages, transforming the ship from mine warfare to anti- submarine or surface warfare capabilities, began builder’s trials Monday in Marinette, Wis.

Freedom is a semi plaining monohull design built by the Lockheed Martin-led team that includes naval architects Gibbs & Cox, and ship builders Marinette Marine [MTW] and Bollinger Shipyards.

A second variant of LCS is being built by the team of General Dynamics [GD] and Austal USA, in Mobile, Ala. The  Independence (LCS-2) is an all-aluminum hull trimaran. Independence was launched in April and is scheduled to go to builder’s trials later this year.

Lockheed Martin’s 12-day test period will examine everything from the propulsion to mission systems as well as integration of the company’s own remote mine hunting vehicle (RMV) and an 11-meter rigid inflatable boat (RIB), Joe North, LCS program director for Lockheed Martin, told Defense Daily Tuesday.

Monday’s start of builder’s trials marked the beginning of a new stage for Freedom, which was side launched at Marinette Marine in September 2006.

In the initial run, Lockheed Martin conducted some dock side tests before taking Freedom up the Menominee River.

As she got underway, Lockheed Martin and Navy officials fired up Freedom‘s diesel engines, before heading out for seven hours of testing.

"We start with just diesels. The diesels, gears shaft, and water jets that make up our propulsion plant all controlled under out automated system, which is mapped into our integrated bridge control system as well," North said.

He had just returned almost 12 hours of testing near Green Bay on the second day of trials.

"The last two days [we] stayed in Green Bay with the diesels only. We are going to take her out into Lake Michigan Friday," he said. "So we ran from the base of Green Bay up to where we would go around the islands into Lake Michigan, and back and forth."

North said he was joined aboard Freedom by representatives from Naval Sea Systems Command, the Program Executive Office Ships, naval technical authorities and other experts.

Under Navy rules, the engines are initially run at 25 percent power before increasing those levels by 25 percent until reaching 100, North said.

"We are kind of doing a shakedown on the whole propulsion plant. We’ve had great success with it, very few hiccups that would cause us to stop and fine tune something," he said. "But all the equipment has been ruining the entire time we are out there. [We are] pretty much concentrating on that propulsion plant."

That’s not to say Lockheed Martin isn’t testing other components. All of the communications systems and a lot of the mission systems are being examined as well as certifications that are required on individual systems–that work is going on in parallel, North explained.

Additionally crews are conducting anchor handling and anchor demonstration.

"We open up our side door and stern door and ramps. [We are] flexing all of those, making sure everything is running and responding as required," he said. "We’ve done rescue boat launch and recovery…lower it down into the water, let it run around, come back and pull it back up."

Another big piece the Navy and Lockheed Martin is testing is the electrical power system. North said they are running power loss tests, turning it off and turning it back on. "What I will call a shakedown of the system, to makes sure we shake all of the bugs out of it, find them, fix them and keep moving."

"We’ve had a great two days and a lot of successes. It’s been a good trial so far," he added. "We’ve got some hard things ahead of us."

Upon completion of builder’s trials, Lockheed Martin will have a 10-day period before the start of acceptance trials to take care of any items that come up, North said.

"Pretty much get her all cleaned up and ready for presentation and acceptance to the InServ board," he added.

InServ is the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey.

The Navy is writing trial cards in preparation for acceptance trials, North said.

Until those tests begin, Lockheed Martin and Navy personnel will continue to test Freedom.

"As the crew gets deeper into the builder’s trials, they will add more strenuous tests to the schedule, North said.

"You start exercising things in parallel, like with the propulsion. We start with just diesels, then we will run just the gas turbines, then we will run both together in different configurations," he said. "So you are constantly trying to increase the complexity to make sure you flush out all of the systems to the performance levels they are going to need."

On the second day of trials, the crew ran at a 100 percent load on the diesel engine, with all four water jets clutched in, North said. "[That] is a pretty good load."

"The only thing I’ll do better is when I get the gas turbine and the diesel running together which will be the beginning of next week," he said. "And then putting a full thrust on everything. This first level is not insignificant."

Early Tuesday evening following Freedom‘s second day of testing, North said the ship feels great. "She’s performing and handling as well or better than we had expected."

Along with testing the ship’s systems, personnel on board are also getting some initial module and integration testing done with two of the mine warfare mission package’s systems: RMV and an 11-meter RIB, North noted.

"[We have] demonstrated launch and recovery of both of those. They’ve sent one of their mission containers which we did all of our fit checks and handling checks with," he said. "The software checks we’ve done both at our Moorestown facility…in a lab, with their equipment talking to our equipment."

Northrop Grumman [NOC] is the mission package integrator.

Most of the software testing on Freedom will take place the ship gets through the St. Lawrence Seaway and heads down the East Coast to Panama City, Fla., North said.

"They will be in Panama City for one to two months…I believe [that] is planned in the post delivery. That will all be controlled by the fleet schedule," he added. "But the intent is to have the ship sail around, head to Panama City, run with all of the mission packages. They will swap them in and out and all of the crews that come with that mission packages will be in there for their operational training and everything else."