A few weeks later, Aaron gets a call from the same guy placing another large order for the same race marks. Now, high on the list of Aaron's many positive qualities is his inquisitive nature, so when someone calls up over the course of a couple of weeks and orders a metric gross of race marks, you tend to get curious and ask "what's up with that?".
As it was explained, this customer was buying marks to form a perimeter around one of the newest ships in the United States Navy, the USS Freedom. The Freedom is a Littoral Class Combat Ship, designed to be a fast, agile, focused-mission platform designed for operation in near-shore environments yet capable of open-ocean operation.
Anyways, the Freedom made a stop at the US Naval Academy here in Annapolis on its way to the naval base in Norfolk, VA. Through Aaron's hard work (you know, listening and typing...) an invitation was extended and a number of us were able to go aboard for a tour. So on a clear, stupidly cold Saturday morning, we all met here at the shop and headed over to check out the Freedom.
A few things about this boat stand out -- at 380ft long, 57ft wide and ~3,000 tons (fully loaded) she's a big ol' girl. Yet, that doesn't stop her semi-planing monohull from hitting a listed speed of 45 knots; in military/gov't speak probably means that she can pull 50-55kts.
That kind of speed doesn't come cheap or easy though -- it takes two 9,000HP turbo-charged diesel engines just to get her up to about 16kts. For that extra kick, she's equipped with two Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbines, cranking out 36MW of power (FYI: your average power plant turbine kicks out about 40MW). These Rolls-Royce turbines are modified versions of the engine used on a Boeing 777, and they have a pretty solid appetite. At full speed, the Freedom sucks down 5,000 gallons of fuel each hour, at a cost of about $160,000 a fill-up. Yeah... $160,000. And when it's really working hard, those fill-ups come about every three days, amounting to a worst case scenario of something like $19M a year in fuel.
Other cool features included the Mk 110 57mm gun on the bow, cranking out up to 220 rounds per minute at a distance of up to nine miles. And we're talking nine miles with, and I quote from our guide, "gnats-ass accuracy" via 2-1/4" rounds that have six programmable fuses allowing the shells to go "boom" on contact, via a delay, at a certain time and three different proximity modes. In other words, they hit exactly what they want to hit and they can do it in a number of really bitchin' ways.
Additionally, it has a RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile system. This is a small, lightweight, infrared homing surface-to-air missile battery storing 21 missiles. There are also torpedoes that can be fitted in addition to the .50-caliber guns on either side of the bridge.
Another impressive aspect was the unmanned vehicles that this boat carries. At any time, she can deploy an ~11m RIB, a submarine or up to three MQ-8 Fire Scout helicopters. The Fire Scout's are really cool -- they look like toys (I actually though it was fake, at first), but these things are no joke. They're operated by remote control and can be fitted with Hellfire Air-to-Surface missiles, which would really put a crimp in your day should one end up near you.
Maybe most amazing about this boat was the the crew -- for all her length and abilities, she's run by a crew numbering only 40. There isn't a crewmember on the Freedom that doesn't have multiple duties and won't pitch in to help perform any task. Everyone has a specialty, but that doesn't stop the head engineer from helping in the mess and the head cook from helping overhaul the oil purification system.
I could keep going on about the amazing systems this ship has, but my fingers are tired and I still have another post to write. But I would like to end things with this thought -- I was staggered by the technology and sheer volume of the Freedom, but I walked away even more amazed and impressed by her crew. The men and women serving aboard were truly some of the most dedicated and talented sailors in the Navy, and my appreciation for their efforts in defense of this country and others was, and still is, indescribable. Thank you to the crew of the Freedom, to every serviceman and servicewoman in the military, and Godspeed to you all.
From left to right: Steve Mazur (Customer Service), Aaron Freeman (Customer Service), James McKenna (Storefront Mgr.), Lynn Bethell (Purchasing), Joanie Stone (Shipping Mgr.), Warren Richter (Customer Service), Arianne Dalton (Recieving), Mike Lindsey (Fulfillment), Jarrett Hering (Rigging), Chris Teixeira (Website Mgr.)