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Hagel visits new Navy combat vessel

Lolita c. Baldor, Associated Press

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel waits to deliver his keynote address on "The US Approach to Regional Security" at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-la Dialogue, or IISS Asia Security Summit in Singapore, Saturday, June 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

SINGAPORE (AP) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel toured the U.S. Navy's new small combat ship, the USS Freedom, the first of a new class of littoral warships recently deployed to Asia.

His visit to the ship on Sunday comes amid nagging questions about the cost and viability of the roughly $34 billion program and whether plans to buy as many as 52 of the vessels should be chopped by as much as half.

Docked at Changi Naval Base, the Freedom has been participating in naval exercises with countries in the region, and going through regular maintenance and logistical checks as part of an effort to work through any problems in this maiden voyage.

Hagel is the first Pentagon chief to step aboard a littoral combat ship that has deployed.