San Diego sailors to fly to Singapore for crew swap

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SAN DIEGO — Ninety-seven sailors and Naval aviators who make up LCS Crew 102 are scheduled to leave Naval Air Station North Island Tuesday night for Singapore, where they will swap positions with the crew of the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth, according to the Navy.

The Fort Worth, which is part of a class of vessels designed for fighting in coastal waters, is in the midst of a 16-month deployment. The Navy swaps crews every four months to keep them fresh. A detachment from the Coronado-based Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 35 will also deploy to the Fort Worth.

This will be the second deployment for LCS Crew 102, known as the “Gold Crew.” The first was aboard the USS Freedom in 2013. The Gold Crew returned to San Diego via aircraft in August 2013 following five months of training.

“We were the first rotational crew to deploy USS Freedom in 2013 and we’re excited to build on that groundbreaking experience in USS Fort Worth,” said Cmdr. Rich Jarrett, commanding officer of LCS Crew 102. “LCS Crews 103 and 104 have set a high bar of excellence and demonstrated a great example for us to follow in Fort Worth’s continued 16-month deployment.”

The current crew aboard the Forth Worth recently patrolled near the Spratly Islands, a chain in the South China Sea that is claimed by China, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. According to the Navy, the Fort Worth has traveled through that body of water several times but this is the first time it came close to the disputed islands.

“As part of our strategic rebalance to bring our newest and most capable Navy platforms to the Indo-Asia-Pacific, LCS now has a regular presence in Southeast Asia,” said Capt. Fred Kacher, who commands Destroyer Squadron 7. “Routine operations like the one Fort Worth just completed in the South China Sea will be the new normal as we welcome four LCSs to the region in the coming years.”

The Navy said the Fort Worth was tailed near the islands by the Chinese guided-missile frigate Hengshui. The LCS’s current commanding officer, Cmdr. Matt Kawas, said interactions with Chinese vessels have been “professional.”

China has been fortifying reefs in the Spratly Islands, according to numerous recent news reports.

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