SINGAPORE (NNS) -- The Navy's first littoral combat ship, USS Freedom (LCS 1), departed Changi Naval Base June 11 to participate in Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Malaysia 2013.
CARAT Malaysia is among the key maritime exercises and exchanges Freedom will conduct with regional navies and U.S. 7th Fleet units while deployed to Southeast Asia.
In May, Freedom participated in the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX) and the Republic of Singapore Navy's Western Pacific Multilateral Sea Exercise (WMSX). In the coming months, Freedom will participate in additional phases of CARAT and in exercise Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT).
Rear Adm. Tom Carney, commander, Task Force 73 and U.S. Naval Forces for CARAT, said Freedom is a good fit with many navies in Southeast Asia that operate comparable-sized ships.
"The opportunity to work side-by-side and interact with regional navies in exercises like CARAT is in large part why Freedom was deployed to Southeast Asia," said Carney.
Carney noted that several training events during CARAT Malaysia would demonstrate Freedom's speed, shallow draft and surface warfare mission package. These events include a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) scenario, a surface gunnery exercise, and shipboard helicopter operations with Freedom's embarked MH-60R Seahawk.
"The crew cannot wait to work with our partners in the Royal Malaysian Navy and demonstrate what this ship was designed to do in the littorals," said Cmdr. Timothy Wilke, commanding officer, USS Freedom.
CARAT is an annual naval exercise series between the United States and the armed forces of nine partner nations: Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Timor-Leste. The 2013 series began with CARAT Indonesia in May, followed by CARAT Thailand in June, and continues through the Fall.
More than 1,200 Sailors and Marines are participating in CARAT Malaysia. Additional U.S. Navy ships participating in the exercise include the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46) with embarked U.S. Marine Corps landing force, the diving and salvage vessel USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50) with embarked Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 1, and the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54).
Though each phase of CARAT is tailored with participating forces and focused training goals, all phases address shared maritime security concerns, build maritime relationships and enhance interoperability.
Prior to departing for CARAT Malaysia, Freedom completed a long-scheduled maintenance availability - known as a Readiness Assist Visit 1 (RAV 1) - and also completed some repairs to the lube oil system during this period in response to problems identified in April.
"The Navy expected challenges associated with deploying a first-of-class ship on a maiden overseas deployment," said Carney. "We have significant experience supporting 7th Fleet ships and have the right combination of technical assistance, maintenance and logistics support in theater to sustain Freedom while deployed to Southeast Asia."
Fast, agile and mission-focused, LCS platforms are designed to operate in near-shore environments and employ modular mission packages that can be configured for three separate purposes: surfaces warfare, mine countermeasures or anti-submarine warfare. Her "Gold" crew of 91 Sailors includes mission package personnel and an aviation detachment to operate the MH-60 helicopter.
Throughout Freedom's rotational deployment to Southeast Asia, which began March 1, the ship will remain homeported in San Diego. Midway through the deployment, a crew-swap will be conducted with Freedom's "Blue" crew.