USS Freedom (LCS 1) arrived at Brunei’s port of Muara Nov. 18 to take on fuel and supplies in preparation to support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts in the Philippines.
The port visit occurs during the annual bilateral exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Brunei with the U.S. Navy and the Royal Brunei Armed Forces. The exercise commenced Nov. 13 and continues through Nov. 19.
Though Freedom’s participation in CARAT Brunei was delayed, planning continues to conduct a brief passing exercise with a Royal Brunei Navy (RBN) offshore patrol vessel while en route to the Philippines.
“It’s truly a pleasure to visit Brunei and have an opportunity to catch a glimpse of this beautiful country and experience its warm hospitality,” said Freedom’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Pat Thien. “While I know the crew would appreciate more time ashore to explore the area, and to work with our RBN partners, we’re looking forward to getting underway to support Operation Damayan and potentially train together at sea on the way to the Philippines.”
Since arriving in Southeast Asia in April, Freedom has worked with many regional navies that operate comparable-sized ships during a series of port visits, exercises, and exchanges. These engagements directly support the Asia-Pacific rebalance and further reinforced cooperation and interoperability among the Navy’s partners and allies throughout Southeast Asia.
Brunei is also supporting Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response (HA/DR) efforts in the Philippines and dispatched the RBN ship, KDB Darussalam, to provide relief supplies Nov. 15. In September, Freedom worked extensively with Darussalam and her boarding teams during the multilateral maritime security exercise, Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT).
Freedom deployed to Southeast Asia with a Surface Warfare Mission Package to conduct maritime security operations with allies, partners and other 7th Fleet units, and as such, is not configured specifically for HA/DR missions. Like other U.S. Navy ships supporting Operation Damayan, Freedom’s MH-60R helicopter is one of her most important HA/DR assets. Freedom also carries ten pallets of HA/DR supplies, including five pallets of hygienic supplies and five pallets of medical supplies.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to join our ships and those from other navies that are already in the Philippines providing relief. We are prepared to help out in any way possible,” said Freedom’s independent duty corpsman, Chief Hospital Corpsman Blair Taylor.
As many senior Navy officials noted recently, the maritime crossroads and vital waterways that connect Southeast Asia to the global economy are exactly where the Navy needs to be present, now and well into the future. Rotational deployments of littoral combat ships will help the Navy sustain presence, expand access to vital waterways and interact with littoral regions in unprecedented ways.
USS Freedom’s first rotational deployment to Southeast Asia began March 1, when the ship departed San Diego and commenced a Pacific Ocean transit that included port visits in Hawaii, Guam and Manila. Freedom used Singapore as a logistics and maintenance hub between April 18 and Nov. 16, during which she participated in the International Maritime Defence Exhibition, two phases of the bilateral naval exercise CARAT with Malaysia and Singapore, and the multinational exercise SEACAT. During port visits, Freedom hosted thousands of dignitaries and visitors from throughout Southeast Asia.
Fast, agile and mission-focused, littoral combat ships are designed to operate in near-shore environments and employ modular mission packages that can be configured for surface warfare, mine countermeasures, or anti-submarine warfare.
Press Release, November 20, 2013; Image: US Navy