First-in-Class LCS USS Freedom Sees Success in Counter-Smuggling Role

uss freedom
U.S. Coast Guard boarding team from USS Freedom seizes narcotics from a go-fast boat (U.S. Navy)

Published Apr 11, 2021 9:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy says that the first vessel in the troubled Freedom-class of littoral combat ships has encountered success as a counter-smuggling platform for U.S. Southern Command. 

After a series of breakdowns, the first two vessels in the Freedom-class series were sidelined and relegated to a testing role in 2016, along with the first two Independence-class LCS vessels. The Navy has ruled out the expense of upgrading the systems aboard these four ships to meet the standards of later hulls, and the service's FY2021 budget proposal called for decommissioning LCS 1-4 early to save funds.

"Those first four ships are not bringing lethality to the fight," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday in March 2020. "I just didn’t see the return on investment."

In addition to questions regarding the design's suitability for high-end combat, the Freedom-class LCS vessels have been plagued with breakdowns related to their combining gears - the complex transmissions that combine power from their diesel engines and gas turbines. In November 2020, the Freedom-class LCS USS Detroit sustained a propulsion casualty related to her combining gears while under way on a multinational exercise in the Southcom area of responsibility. She opted to limp back to Naval Station Mayport for repairs, but during the transit, she lost electrical power as well. A commercial offshore tug took her in tow and brought her safely into port. 

Despite the vessels' sustainment challenges, U.S. Southern Command has petitioned the Navy for more access to the capabilities of the LCS fleet. The fast, lightly-armed vessels have ideal features for counternarcotics operations in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. USS Freedom has been deployed in a law enforcement role for Southcom since January 11, and the Navy says that the first-in-class vessel has had some success. On April 7, a joint U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy team aboard Freedom seized over 1,500 kilograms of cocaine off the coast of Mexico. 

“The Navy-Coast Guard team on Freedom executed flawlessly,” said Vice Adm. Scott D. Conn, U.S. Third Fleet commander. “This mission, performed on short notice with exacting precision, demonstrates the strength of our flexible, mobile, integrated and trained team.”

Freedom and her embarked helicopter detachment spotted and approached the smuggling boat. A Coast Guard law enforcement team then conducted a boarding, search, and seizure operation and found the narcotics. 

“This is yet another example of how important the relationship is between the Coast Guard and Navy. That relationship allows us to be an effective team, and because of that team effort we have removed an additional 3,450 pounds of illicit drugs from reaching the streets," said Rear Adm. Brian Penoyer, Eleventh Coast Guard District commander.