The United States Navy saw the need for a fleet of small, multipurpose corvette type warships to operate in the littoral or costal waterways at home or abroad. As it stands, the Coast Guard is charged with such duties in rivers, actuaries, along coastlines and even out to blue water as needed. The bid went out for a 55-ship contract and two shipbuilders were then chosen. The "Freedom-class" design was proposed by Lockheed Martin and two ships were approved for construction. General Dynamics also presented a design to the Navy department - which was accepted as the "Independence-class", also a corvette size littoral combat ship.
The keel for the USS Freedom (LCS-1) was laid down in June of 2005 by the Marinette Marine Corporation. Marinette Marine was founded in 1942 along the Menominee River in Marinette, Wisconsin to meet America's growing demand for naval warship construction during World War 2. Initially manufacturing wooden barges, Marinette went on to grow into a world-class small shipbuilder with more than 1,500 vessels completed of 3,000 tons or less displacement. The USS Freedom was constructed next to the Menominee River and, when side-launched in 2008 during trials, some 2,600 inconsistencies were discovered of which 21 were deemed a "high priority" in their repair. During this refit all the needed repairs were not completed as winter was approaching. In order to keep Freedom from becoming encased in icy waters, it was decided in December of 2008 that she should make her way down the Menominee to Green Bay, then into Lake Michigan before finally arriving at Norfolk, Virginia to undergo open sea trials. This was to commence before transiting to her homeport in San Diego, California. Freedom went into her sea trials in 2010.
At her core, the USS Freedom is 378 feet (115 m) long and her beam measures in at 57.4 feet (17.5 m) with a draft of 12.8 feet (3.9 m). Her displacement is 2,862 tons. The Lockheed Martin LCS engineering team designed the hull concept called "Sea Blade" based on the long fast-hull form of the motor yacht "Destriero". The hull features a semi-planing steel mono-hull and the superstructure was made with aluminum. The aft flight deck is large and uses a Trigon traversing system to move helicopters in and out of the provided onboard hangar. The flight deck is designed to be interchangeable in order to accept different helicopter types through launch and recovery. The LCS-1 also has two ways to launch and recover mission boats - a stern ramp and a large starboard side door near the waterline. The side door has a 3-axis powered crane system for loading cargo and mission modules into deployed boats as needed.
Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) use waterjets instead of the normal propellers, shafts, struts, and rudders that extend below the waterline. This choice of propulsion gear is new on ships of this size giving them an advantage for missions requiring use of a shallow draft (as in the USS Freedom). The lack of below-the-waterline propulsion equipment minimizes the risk of grounding or running into an unseen submerged object. The removal of equipment under the hull further allows the Freedom to operate even closer to shoreline and in rivers. She can also "beach" herself for deployment or retrieval of awaiting troops with full mission gear.
The mono-hull design can run up and over submerged logs or sandbars without damaging the flush waterjet propulsion system. The waterjets produce rapid acceleration and can drive the Freedom faster than 45 knots (83 km/h; 52 mph). Waterjet-powered ships are extremely maneuverable, stopping almost "on a dime" without overloading the engines. Rear propulsion is produced by deflectors that angle the jet stream forward and, when station keeping is needed, the waterjets are used to allow Freedom to stand in place even in a strong current.
The ship's range is 3,500 nmi (6,500 km; 4,000 mi) at 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). Having a small crew, her endurance is approximately 21 days without a tender. She has an assigned main crew of 40 who run the ship's daily operations and two different mission crews of 35 members each including an aviation group. The mission crews are identified as "Gold" and "Blue" teams that bring the total crew complement to 75. The two 35-member Gold and Blue teams serve four month tours and include sailors and Coast Guardsmen for two fast boat boarding teams. The 2 x helicopters belong to the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron #22 - the "Sea Knights". Each team has a Coast Guard fire team to engage at illegal drug trafficking boats if needed.
Four 750-kilowatt Fincantieri Isotta-Fraschini diesel generators provide electrical power for all of the critical onboard systems - from the galley to the sensors and processing systems. The air surface radar is the EADS TRS-3D and the combat management system was made by Lockheed Martin (COMBATSS-21). The Freedom uses a towed sonar array (AN/SQR-20) for ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) missions. The electronic warfare systems are the Argon ST WBR-2000 ESM system and the Terma A/S SKWS decoy system.
The Freedom is provided weapons to match her multi-mission role capabilities. She has 1 x BAE Systems Mk 110 series 57mm deck gun mounted forward, this having a range of 57,000 feet (17,000 meters). The 57mm gun is auto-fed with 400 rounds in the turret and two additional magazines having 240 rounds each. The sights are Gyro-stabilized. On the port and starboard sides of the craft are 4 x Browning .50-cal heavy machine guns and 2 x Mk 44 Bushmaster II 30mm guns to be used for surface threats. The Mk 44 is a 30mm chain gun firing 200 rounds-per-minute with a range out to 16,700 feet (5,100 meters). To counter air-to-surface missile threats, the weapon of choice is the 21 x RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile cells. The missile launcher is mounted aft, above the hangar deck, for short-range defense against incoming aircraft and wave-top cruise missiles threats. As designed the ship was equipped with internal batteries for 45 x NLOS missiles to counter the anti-surface ship warfare (ASW) threat. However these have since been removed.
The aircraft carried are 2 x Sikorsky MH-60R/S "Seahawk" medium-lift helicopters and 1 x Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout UAV helicopter. The 2 x Seahawks have a reduced footprint with their hinged/folding tail sections within the available hangers. The MH-60R can handle anti-submarine warfare missions, ASW and medical evacuations of naval ship crew members and others in distress (MEDEVAC). Naval Special Warfare (NSW) insertion missions, vertical replenishment (VERTREP) of men and material and search and rescue (SAR) are all part of the Seahawk forte. All Navy H-60 series helicopters carry a rescue hoist for SAR/CSAR missions.
The 1 x MQ-8 unmanned Fire Scout is designed to provide over-the-horizon reconnaissance of fast-boat drug runners and targeting for support of air, ground and sea elements. The MQ-8B is fitted with stub wings which are for aerodynamic stability as well as hardpoints for armament. Available weapons include "Viper" laser-guided glide weapons, "Hellfire" missiles and pods for the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS). Laser-guided 70mm (2.75-inch) folding-fin podded rockets can take out light armored vehicles. Another use of the Fire Scout is in carrying emergency supplies to troops in-the-field (up to 200 pounds/90 kilograms).
On February 16th, 2010 - as America's first Littoral Combat Ship - USS Freedom (LCS-1) sailed from Naval Station Mayport, Florida per the Navy Department on a trial deployment. During this time on station, Freedom was available for missions in the Caribbean for a number of weeks before arriving at her homeport at San Diego. While on deployment observers spotted a "go-fast boat" outside Colombian territorial waters. Freedom launched its MH-60S Seahawk helicopter with its surface radar which monitored the drug runner vessel. The crew further observed the boat's occupants dumping their drug load overboard. The boat then crossed into Colombian waters, requiring the Colombian Navy to continue pursuit.
The Seahawk helicopter stayed on station while the littoral combat ship USS Freedom arrived and launched a boat into the water. The crew seized a quarter-ton of cocaine that had been dumped overboard by the panicked drug smugglers. The first "trial deployment" with the 4th Fleet proved a success. The US Navy indicated that the dumped bales of cocaine retrieved from the water were to be kept onboard the Freedom as evidence for when/if prosecutors try to bring the smugglers to trial.
A six inch horizontal hull crack below the waterline was discovered during a heavy weather ocean trial on the USS Freedom in February of 2011. It originated at a weld seam between two steel plates. The Freedom returned to port in San Diego, avoiding rough seas in the process. The Navy is reviewing the stress fracture on the mono-hull.
To date, USS Freedom (LCS-1) has sailed more than 10,000 nautical miles and successfully completed sea trials of her combat, communications and sensors and processing systems. Only USS Freedom (LCS-1) of the Freedom-class of ships has been commissioned as of this writing (2011). Other intended sister ships are the USS Forth Worth, the USS Milwaukee, the USS Detroit, the USS Little Rock and the USS Sioux City.
In February of 2015 it was announced that the "Littoral Combat Ship" designation for future vessels of the class will be reclassified to "frigate".