Hagel tours Navy’s littoral combat ship

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Sunday toured the Navy’s first littoral combat ship, the USS Freedom, docked at Changi Naval Base in Singapore.

Hagel thanked the crew and said the ship’s presence in the Pacific was a “big deal for our country, and a big deal for you,” according to the Pentagon.

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“What you represent to our country and our partnerships in the Asia-Pacific I don’t think can be overstated. You are really defining a new era of partnership,” said the secretary.

The Freedom is participating in naval exercises with U. S. allies in the region.

The Navy’s littoral combat ships are seen as a centerpiece of the fleet’s future plans, but cost overruns for the program have invited criticism from lawmakers, some of whom have suggested the Pentagon should cancel the project.

The program has also been plagued with a number of technical issues, including one incident in which a ship headed to Singapore lost engine power.

The heads of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in April called for the Government Accountability Office to review the program.

Hagel’s tour of the littoral combat ship comes amid the twenty-seven nation Shangri-La Security Dialogue, an annual conference, which he is attending for the first time as Defense secretary.

The Obama administration has sought to shift its military focus to the Asia-Pacific theater, following the end of the Iraq war and the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

In a speech on Saturday, Hagel said that 60 percent of U.S. naval forces would be deployed in the Pacific by 2020. But the administration has sought to reassure China that the moves are not meant as a counter to Beijing.

“The United States welcomes and supports a prosperous and successful China that contributed to regional and global problem solving,” said Hagel.

Hagel also addressed the growing threat from Chinese cyberattacks on U.S. government and business computer systems, urging China to help set up “international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace.”