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USS Freedom Arrives in Singapore for Southeast Asian Stint




SINGAPORE—A U.S. warship designed for coastal operations pulled into Singapore Thursday for its first-ever Southeast Asian stint, part of American efforts to boost its military presence in a region fraught with territorial disputes.

The deployment of the USS Freedom, the first of a new class of littoral combat ships, comes amid festering tensions in the South China Sea, where Beijing has clashed with some neighbors over competing territorial claims.

U.S. officials say the warship’s eight-month stint in Southeast Asia also underscores Washington’s growing strategic focus on the region.

“The USS Freedom is ‘exhibit A’ to our continued commitment to security here in Southeast Asia,” U.S. Ambassador to Singapore David Adelman told reporters onboard the warship.

Regional concerns about China’s escalating military power have prompted the U.S. to shore up defense ties with old allies and build closer military relations with new partners, including Vietnam.

The U.S. in 2011 announced plans to deploy up to four littoral combat ships to Singapore on a rotational basis, meaning the vessels won’t have a permanent base in the city-state.

A second littoral combat ship could be deployed to Southeast Asia within the next 20 months, Mr. Adelman said, although the exact timing hasn’t been decided.

China’s claims to the whole of the South China Sea has put it at odds with partial but competing claims by members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Chinese officials have repeatedly warned the U.S. not to interfere in the territorial disputes, which Beijing says should be settled bilaterally between China and each of the other claimants.

The USS Freedom, which stopped in Manila before arriving in Singapore, is due to participate in exercises with Southeast Asian navies in the next eight months, said Commander Timothy Wilke, the warship’s commanding officer.

The littoral combat ship has been criticized for a perceived lack of firepower to meet its operational needs. According to media reports, a senior U.S. Navy commander has called on the Navy to consider acquiring a more capable warship after the first 24 littoral combat ships are built.

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