Magazine article National Defense

Aluminum 'Truck': Joint High Speed Vessel: Great Potential, but Questions Remain

Magazine article National Defense

Aluminum 'Truck': Joint High Speed Vessel: Great Potential, but Questions Remain

Article excerpt

The Defense Department this decade will build a fleet of new high-speed aluminum ships specifically designed to shuttle hundreds of troops and tons of cargo around a theater of operations. These shallow-draft logistics ships, analysts say, will become valuable vehicles for executing "soft power" missions--responding to natural disasters, providing humanitarian assistance, conducting port visits and training partner military forces, among others.


The Defense Department currently accomplishes this role using traditional warships such as the Navy's "big deck" amphibious vessels. Analysts say the joint high speed vessel would alleviate pressures on an overtaxed fleet.

The Army and the Navy are purchasing the initial 10 ships of the joint high speed vessel fleet. As the first-of-class ship is being constructed in Mobile, Ala., analysts expect to see growing demand for the 338-foot catamaran. But questions remain about how the two services will integrate the commercial ferry-based ship into their respective logistics fleets and how they expect to operate, support and maintain the vessel.


The joint high speed vessel is the sea-faring equivalent of a cargo aircraft. A crew of 41 will operate the so-called maritime "truck." The Navy expects to man the vessel with a mix of civilian mariners and a detachment of sailors. The Army is likely to crew the ship with enlisted soldiers commanded by a warrant officer.

In addition to crew accommodations, there are 312 seats for passengers and 144 berths to allow riders to sleep in eight-hour shifts.

The flight deck will support the operations of a variety of rotary-wing aircraft, including the Marine Corps' CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter. Adjacent to the landing pad is a parking and storage area for a single rotary-wing aircraft no larger than an H-60 variant. Beneath the flight deck, the open-plan mission bay can carry 600 short tons of cargo, including M-l Abrams main battle tanks.

Austal USA is building JHSV (see related story p. 36). It was awarded the first-of-class ship in 2008. Since then, the Navy has placed four more ships under contract, with options for buying five additional vessels in the next two years--two in 2011, two in 2012 and one in 2013, said Capt. George Sutton, program manager for strategic and theater sealift at Naval Sea Systems Command.

The $185 million first-of-class ship is coming in on budget, officials said. That the program appears to be running more smoothly than other shipbuilding efforts can be attributed in part to the vessel's commercial-based design, said Jan van Tol, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The program is leveraging technical aspects from Austal's Hawaiian super ferry and its commercial high-speed vessel WestPac Express (see related article p. 37). The ship's deck is already strong enough to support the Marine Corps' heaviest helicopters, which seems to attest to the robust design, van Tol said.

"It's a hardy ship, I can tell you that," said Joseph Rella, president of Austal USA.

The supplier base for JHSV is sound, said Joe Carnevale, senior defense advisor at the Shipbuilders Council of America. "They know how to build the ship," he said.

Detailed design of the vessel is complete, said Sutton. The ship is being constructed in 44 modules, or large units that are fully furnished before being connected to the hull. On the first-of-class ship, Spearhead (JHSV-1), all the modules are in production. At 50 percent complete, it is on schedule for launch in August with delivery expected in December, officials said.

The Navy will complete sea trials in the fall. That test and trial period will be critical for the program, Sutton said.

The joint high speed vessel's key qualities are speed, payload and range, he said. The ship will be able to sail at 35 knots in sea-state three, or with slight waves in the ocean. …

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