By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The computer network on the U.S. Navy's newest class of coastal warships showed vulnerabilities in Navy cybersecurity tests, but the issues were not severe enough to prevent an eight-month deployment to Singapore, a Navy official said on Tuesday.
A Navy team of computer hacking experts found some deficiencies when assigned to try to penetrate the network of the USS Freedom, the lead vessel in the $37 billion Littoral Combat Ship program, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Freedom arrived in Singapore last week for an eight-month stay, which its builder, Lockheed Martin Corp., hopes will stimulate Asian demand for the fast, agile and stealthy ships.
"We do these types of inspections across the fleet to find individual vulnerabilities, as well as fleet-wide trends," said the official.
Cybersecurity is a major priority for the Navy, which relies heavily on communications and satellite networks for its weapons systems and situational awareness.
Defense Department spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea said the Pentagon's chief weapons test agency addressed "information assurance vulnerabilities" for the Littoral Combat Ship in an assessment provided to the Navy.
"The details of that assessment are classified," Elzea said.
Lockheed spokesman Keith Little said the company was working with the Navy to ensure that USS Freedom's networks were secure during the deployment.
The Navy plans to buy 52 of the new LCS warships in coming years, including some of Lockheed's steel monohull design and some of an aluminum-hulled LCS trimaran design built by Australia's Austal. The ships are designed for combat and other missions in shallower waters close to shore.
Freedom's first operational deployment was in the Caribbean Sea in 2010, where the ship participated in four drug transport busts and captured a total of five tons of cocaine.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Eric Beech and Stephen Coates)