By Andrea Shalal
SAN DIEGO Calif. (Reuters) - An upcoming 16-month deployment of the USS Fort Worth, a new coastal warship built by Lockheed Martin Corp, kicks off a new strategy by the U.S. Navy that it says will save money and help maintain a presence overseas despite tighter budgets.
Captain Randy Garner, Commodore of Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Squadron One, said the Navy planned to have three crews for every two Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), rotating them onto the ships every four months, a big reduction from current staffing levels that allow crews to remain with their ships.
"It’s all about giving flexibility to the forward commander, based on how much money we have," Garner told Reuters at his office after a tour of the ship, which is due to leave on Monday for Singapore and the Pacific region.
"It’s an amazing return on the shipbuilding dollar for us, versus what we’ve done in the past," he said. The Navy plans to have four LCS ships operating out of Singapore by around 2018.
Garner already oversees four LCS ships in San Diego, with four more due to arrive over the next year or so. He said the new ships were meeting key milestones despite concerns raised by technical challenges that arose during last year's deployment of the first LCS ship, USS Freedom, to Asia.
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who stands poised to head the Senate Armed Services Committee, and others seized on an April report in which the Government Accountability Office questioned the ships' ability to survive attacks at sea.
The Pentagon is reviewing Navy recommendations on whether to upgrade the ships, modify them or switch to a different design. The decisions will be part of the fiscal 2016 budget request.
Garner said the Navy learned important lessons from Freedom's deployment but said every other new ship program had similar experiences.
He said the program successfully completed testing of the surface warfare equipment this summer, and Fort Worth and its core crew aced a survivability test last month in which they fought five simultaneous fires for over 90 minutes.
In September, all four LCS ships went to sea at the same time, with three carrying different mission packages and a fourth testing a new long-range missile developed by Norway's Kongsberg Gruppen, he said.