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U.S. warship returns to sea after generator issues

The USS Freedom is moored at Changi Naval Base ahead of U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus' visit in Singapore, in this May 11, 2013 file
The USS Freedom is moored at Changi Naval Base ahead of U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus' visit in Singapore, in this May 11, 2013 file

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The USS Freedom, one of the U.S. Navy's new coastal warships, has returned to sea to participate in a naval exercise with Singapore, after generator problems forced it to return to port over the weekend, a Navy spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Technicians replaced parts in two of the three diesel generators that power the ship, which was built by Lockheed Martin Corp, Navy Lieutenant Caroline Hutcheson said.

The generator was the latest in a series of problems faced by the warship on its first major overseas deployment. Freedom, the first in the new class of Littoral Combat Ships, arrived in Singapore on April 18.

Officials with the Navy and Lockheed have called the issues typical of those faced by the first ship in a new class.

Lockheed Chief Executive Marillyn Hewson told reporters on Tuesday that the company was working with the Navy on increasing the reliability of the generators, but defended the ship's overall performance.

Among the parts replaced were turbochargers, which increase the speed and power of the generators, worn fuel oil couplings, clogged fuel injectors and temperature sensors - all of which contributed to the overheating that caused the generators to shut down while the ship was preparing for the naval exercises.

Hutcheson said the ship would still be able to participate in the at-sea part of the exercise, also called Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Singapore.

The ship will join the USS Fitzgerald, a destroyer, USNS Washington Chambers, a cargo ship, a U.S. Navy P-3 aircraft and several Singaporean Navy ships in "the most complex scenario of the exercise, featuring combined training in surface warfare, air defense and anti-submarine warfare," Hutcheson said.

Rear Admiral Tom Rowden, director of surface warfare for the Chief of Naval Operations, said was pleased with the ship's performance during the deployment.

Since departing for Singapore, Freedom has also faced issues with its coolant system, which forced it to port for repairs. Navy tests also found vulnerabilities in its computer network.

Rowden said the Navy would look at whether the generators needed to be modified to improve their reliability.

Rowden said he remained confident that the LCS steel monohull design built by Lockheed, and an aluminum trimaran built by Australia's Austal, would fill gaps in the Navy's ability to detect and destroy mines, fight enemy submarines and conduct surface warfare operations.

The ships' smaller size and ability to integrate new weapons would help the Navy more affordably respond to emerging challenges, such as piracy, he said.

The Navy plans to spend $34 billion to build 52 of the new warships, which were designed to patrol coastal waters while addressing threats like mines and enemy submarines.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa)

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