By Geoff Fein

Navy has decided to deploy the USS Freedom (LCS-1) two years earlier than planned to begin integration of the Littoral Combat Ship into the fleet and to incorporate lessons learned into future deployments, according to the service.

Earlier this summer, Chief of Naval Operation (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead directed both the his staff and U.S. Fleet Forces Command to look at an early, short-term deployment for Freedom (Defense Daily, June 15).

Besides determining the feasibility of deploying Freedom earlier than envisioned, the study also examined distance support and where the mission modules would be swapped out, if the Navy decided to do that.

Earlier this week, Roughead said it is time to deliver this capability to the fleet.

“Deploying LCS now is a big step forward in getting this ship where it needs to be–operating in the increasingly important littoral regions,” Roughead said. “We must deliver this critical capability to the warfighter now.”

For her deployment, Freedom will be outfitted with a tailored surface warfare mission package that will consist of an armed MH-60 and two 30mm gun modules, Lt. Cmdr. Philip Rosi, a U.S. Fleet Forces spokesman, told Defense Daily yesterday.

In addition to the surface warfare package, Freedom will also carry a prototype maritime security module with visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) capability, Rosi added.

That prototype module will have at least one manned rigid inflatable boat (RIB) capability, he said.

Before her deployment, Freedom will have to be certified for maritime security surge, Rosi said.

He could not provide a date for when that certification will take place.

While there are no plans to swap out mission packages during Freedom‘s maiden voyage, there be an opportunity to swap out crews, as both the blue and gold crews will participate in the initial deployment, Rosi added.

Along with the two crews, an aviation detachment and mission package detachment will deploy with Freedom.

The sooner the Navy integrates LCS into the fleet, the sooner officials can incorporate the ships in the order of battle, said Adm John Harvey, commander, U.S. Fleet Forces.

“This deployment offers a golden opportunity to learn by doing. Employing the USS Freedom in theater two years ahead of a normal timeline allows us to incorporate lessons that can only be learned in a deployment setting more quickly and effectively in the LCS fleet integration process,” Harvey said.

In evaluating options for deploying Freedom earlier than originally scheduled, the Navy took into consideration several key factors including combat systems testing, shakedown of the ship systems, and overseas sustainment with a new concept of operations and crew training. To facilitate the early deployment, the Navy adjusted the USS Freedom (LCS-1) testing schedule, prioritized testing events needed for deployment and deferred others not required for the missions envisioned during this deployment. Freedom recently completed Industrial Post Delivery Availability 2, which also supported an early deployment.

The decision to deploy LCS-1 in 2010 will make next year a very busy one for the program. The Navy is also expected to award a new contract to a single vendor to build 10 of the ships, under a new acquisition plan proposed earlier this summer (Defense Daily, Sept. 17).

Under the new plan, the two prime contractors for LCS–General Dynamics [GD] and Lockheed Martin [LMT]–will compete head- to-head with the winner building 10 ships through fiscal year ’14. The winning contractor will build two ships, with options for eight more between FY ’11 and FY ’14 (Defense Daily, Sept. 18).

The Navy could award an LCS contract by the end of the second quarter, or into the third quarter of FY ’10.

In FY ’12, the Navy will hold the second LCS competition to find a second source to build the ship. The winner of the second competition will get a contract to build one ship in FY ’12 and options for four additional ships between FY ’13 and FY ’14, for a total of five LCS. The winner of the FY ’10 competition cannot compete for the FY ’12 contract.

A third and final competition will be held in FY ’15 to determine which of the two shipyard will build the majority of LCS.

The Navy recognizes that the second yard will have a higher learning curve as it produces LCS frames.

“That’s why in our strategy that second yard, provided they produce consistent to what we select them to, will get five ships. We will allow them the opportunity to drive down their learning curve,” Rear Adm. William Landay, Program Executive Officer (PEO) Ships, told reporters during a briefing earlier this month.

But that learning curve is going to be much further down than it would have started off because it’s a design that the Navy knows, Landay said.

“It’s a locked-in baseline. There is not a lot of opportunity there to change the baseline. What we are looking for are their production processes and how we can build that ship more efficiently,” he said. “Then, when we get to FY ’15, those two shipyards will compete against each other.”