Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS 18) returned to her homeport of Naval Base San Diego, June 14, 2023, following a 26-month rotational deployment.
On April 7, 2021, Charleston departed San Diego for her maiden deployment with an embarked detachment from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21. While deployed, the ship completed mission tasking for both U.S. 3rd and U.S. 7th Fleet Areas of Operation like patrolling the East and South China Seas, training for contested maritime resupply tasking, and operating with an Amphibious Ready Group. Charleston was also the first LCS to conduct mine countermeasure training outside U.S. waters and was the first commissioned U.S. naval ship to enter the port of Manilla, Philippines since 2019.
“Returning from the longest littoral combat ship deployment to date is an extremely proud moment for our crew,” said Cmdr. Matthew Knuth, commanding officer of Charleston Gold crew. “Our work over-the-horizon would not have been possible without the dedication of each and every Sailor of both Charleston crews and all the entities that supported us out there.”
Charleston participated in various exercises while under the operational control of Destroyer Squadron Seven including Cooperation Afloat Readiness Training Brunei, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Timor Leste, Exercise Kakadu 2022, integrated Operation Noble Vanguard 22, Operation Loaded Stingray, Operation La Perouse, and Super Garuda Shield.
The ship completed joint missions in support of forward presence and maritime law operations. The U.S. Coast Guard’s Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Detachment 104 teamed with Charleston and HSC 21 to protect United States and Pacific Island Nation resource security and sovereignty during a Secretary of Defense Oceania Maritime Security Initiative mission. The ship also conducted combined, integrated, naval operations with countries like Australia, Japan, France, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. During its 26-month deployment it conducted several patrols in the East and South China Seas, providing a forward presence to deter aggression and maintain an open and free Indo-Pacific region.
“Our presence in the Indo-Pacific strengthened partnerships, developed relationships, and increased the Fleet’s lethality,” said Cmdr. Nellie Wang, commanding officer of Charleston Blue crew. “I could not be more honored to have been a part of this deployment’s Charleston team.”
As a littoral combat ship, Charleston has both a Blue crew and a Gold crew, which alternate being “on-hull” aboard the ship and “off-hull” conducting training in San Diego. Gold crew spent three periods on-hull forward-deployed aboard the ship, and Blue crew spent two periods on-hull. The ship remained away from homeport during the entirety of its deployment thanks largely in part to the work of both crews and Maintenance Execution Teams (METs) that met Charleston in maintenance hubs throughout Oceania to include Guam, Hawaii, and Singapore.
“From the days of COVID seclusion in Guam to return to normal operations in Singapore, the mighty Charleston was there answering the call for every type of tasking imaginable,” said Cmdr. John Actkinson, who was aboard Charleston Gold crew as both executive officer and commanding officer during the deployment. “Most noteworthy to me was after we were the first LCS to pull into Sasebo, Japan, we were tasked to take 45 pallets of goods out into the Philippine Sea to replenish a destroyer that couldn’t come into port.”
The crews also deepened relationships with allies, partners, and friends through distinguished visitor meetings aboard the ship. Charleston hosted the German Minister of Defense, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer; Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Vice Adm. Fukuda Tatsuya, commander of Fleet Escort Force, and Rear Adm. Shimizu Hitoshi, commander of Escort Flotilla Two; and the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mike Gilday.
With Charleston’s arrival back to homeport, there are currently three Independence-variant littoral combat ships deployed to provide forward presence and conduct maritime security, sea control, and deterrence missions both near-shore and on the high seas.
Charleston is homeported in San Diego as part of Mine Division Twelve and Littoral Combat Ship Squadron One. LCS are versatile, mission-focused platforms designed to operate in near-shore environments and win against 21st-century coastal threats.