Magazine article National Defense

Navy Tests Coastal Warfare Systems aboard New Catamaran

Magazine article National Defense

Navy Tests Coastal Warfare Systems aboard New Catamaran

Article excerpt

A new high-speed catamaran, just leased for $21.7 million, is helping the U.S. Navy decide what technologies will be most useful in coastal warfare.

The Navy is seeking to develop a new class of littoral combat ships, which will feature an advanced and a shallow draft, and be able to move through coastal waters at speeds of 40 to 50 knots. In service awarded contracts to two firms--$45.5 million to Lockheed Martin's Naval Electronics Surveillance Systems of Moorestown, N.J., and $78.8 million to General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works, of Bath, Maine--to do final designs.

Lockheed Martin's design is expected to be completed by December of this year, and General Dynamics' work is to be done by September 2005. The contracts include options for construction of up to two prototype ships.

The high-speed catamaran is serving as a test platform for technologies in mine warfare and expeditionary operations that the Navy would like to transition to LCS.

The service's latest catamaran--called the High Speed Vessel 2 Swift--is a converted car ferry. It is 321 feet long, with a top speed of about 45 knots.

The Swift's aluminum hull draws only about 11.5 feet of water. This enables her to operate in shallow coastal waters, without the need for major harbors with deepwater berths, said the ship's experimentation director, Lt. Cmdr. Paul Berthelotte.

The Swift was leased in August front Bollinger/Incar USA, of Lockport, La. It is the latest of several Australian catamarans to be put to use by U.S. military services. After watching an Australian Navy catamaran move troops and supplies to and from East Timor, the U.S. Marines in 2001 leased the WestPac Express from Austal Ships Pty.--an Australian rival of Incat--for use in the Western Pacific Ocean.

Also in 2001, the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard leased the HSV-X1 Joint Venture from Bullinger/Incat for a year, with the possibility of another year's extension.

The Army, looking for a platform that could move more troops and equipment, renewed the lease for the Joint Venture.

During the early days of the conflict with Iraq, the Joint Venture served as a forward staging platform for Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism and Navy SEAL (Sea, Air and Land) units operating in the shallow waters off the port city of Um Qasr. In April of this year, Army aviators off the coast of Korea experimented with landing two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters on its flight deck.

In 2002, the Army's Tank Automotive and Armaments Command ordered a second catamaran from Bollinger/Incat. The ship has been dubbed Theater Support Vessel Spearhead-X1. In 2003, the command decided to buy, rather than lease, several additional catamarans over the next few years. The catamarans would be built in the United States. The Army is preparing to award the first contract in 2005.

The Navy plans to explore the Swift's ability to perform two primary missions--mine warfare command and support, and expeditionary operations, Berthelotte said.

The Swift, additionally, is serving with the Navy's Mine Warfare Command, headquartered at Naval Station Ingleside, Texas, as the interim replacement for the Navy's only mine countermeasures command and control ship, the USS Inchon, which retired in 2002.

It also is operating out of Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Va., in a series of expeditionary warfare experiments and exercises.

Two separate, 40-person crews operate the ship. A Gold Crew, based in Little Creek, concentrates on expeditionary missions, and a Blue Crew, in Ingleside, focuses on mine warfare. …

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