The USS Freedom, the first of the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), is gearing up for its first overseas deployment to evaluate the ship and develop a long-term strategy for the program, the commander of naval surface forces said recently.

The Freedom (LCS-1) is scheduled to depart San Diego for Singapore around March 1 on a mission to provide lessons on “real world” operations and on manning, training and equipping, Vice Adm. Tom Copeman told reporters on a conference call. It is slated to be on station in Singapore for eight months.

The Freedom will be carrying a surface warfare mission module, one of three mission packages designed for the LCS. The other two are for mine countermeasure and anti-submarine warfare.

“We’re going to learn a lot of lesson from this deployment,” Copeman said.

The LCS is meant to operate with a baseline crew of 40, but the Navy is evaluating the possibility of raising that number. Copeman said 10 crew members will be added during the Singapore deployment to provide additional maintenance capabilities.

With the helicopter detachment and surface warfare module, manpower on the ship will be slightly more than 90, he said. Copeman said the ship will be on a “robust” tempo during the deployment, with five days of each 30 dedicated to maintenance.

“There are a number of bilateral and multilateral exercises planned,” he said.

The LCSs are expected to play a key role in the new defense strategy outlined a year ago that emphasizes and expanded presence in the Asia Pacific region.

Three have been delivered to the Navy with the arrival last year of the USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), a Freedom variant of the ship built under prime contractor Lockheed Martin [LMT].  The fourth ship and second of the USS Independence (LCS-2) variant built by Austal USA is expected for delivery this summer, Copeman said.