The Naval Sea Systems Command this fall authorized Austal USA, prime contractor for the joint Army-Navy Joint High-Speed Vessel (JHSV) program, to begin construction on the fourth and fifth ships of the class at the company’s Mobile, Alabama, shipyard. In mid-September, Austal started work on the second JHSV, the Vigilant (JHSV-2). Austal laid the keel for the first ship of the class, the Spearhead (JHSV-1), last July, with launch scheduled for June 2011 and delivery to the Army in December 2011.
The JHSVs will provide rapid intra-theater transport of Army and Marine Corps personnel, vehicles, and cargo for both services. The vessels will be capable of operating in shallow waters as well as loading and off-loading at roll-on/roll-off port facilities.
The innovative joint-service program calls for the construction of ten JHSVs, five for the Navy and five for the Army, with the Navy’s Strategic and Theater Sealift Program Office—within the Program Executive Office, Ships (PEO Ships)—managing the shipbuilding program. Austal won the JHSV-1 construction contract, with options for nine additional ships—a potential value of $1.8 billion—in November 2008. Following a one-year design phase, the Navy approved commencement of the work in December 2009. In January 2010, the Navy exercised contract options funding construction of JHSV-2 and JHSV-3.
On a lease basis, the Navy has been using high-speed transport vessels—including the HSV-X1 Joint Venture and HSV-2 Swift, built by the Australian shipbuilder Incat—for moving personnel and cargo since the late 1990s. From 2001 to 2005, the Navy and Army together leased the Joint Venture from Incat to evaluate her feasibility for high-speed transport in combat operations. The vessel was used during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2003.
The Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command chartered the theater-support vessel (TSV) Spearhead, a high-speed logistics ship built by Incat/Bollinger, from 2002 to 2005. In 2002 the Navy’s Military Sealift Command initiated a charter with Austal for a high-speed cargo ship, the Westpac Express, for the Marine Corps Logistics Prepositioning Ship program.
According to PEO Ships, the current JHSV program consolidates the Army’s theater-support vessel program and the Navy’s high-speed connector program with the aim of achieving dramatically reduced construction and systems-integration costs. PEO Ships points out that the JHSVs will be built to comply with American Bureau of Shipping standards for high-speed naval craft.
The Navy vessels will be operated by the Military Sealift Command, and thus will carry the designation “USNS” rather than the active Navy’s “USS.” JHSVs 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 will be owned by the Army, and hulls 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 will be Navy ships. The Navy’s first two will be operated by civil-service mariner crews employed directly by Military Sealift Command; the next three will be manned by contractor crews. The Army ships will be handled by Army crewmasters. Both the Army and Navy JHSV variants will require crews ranging from 22 to 40.
The Austal-built JHSV class will be 337 feet long with a 93-foot beam. Each ship will be powered by four MTU diesel engines, permitting a top speed of 43 knots, and will be able to operate to a range of 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots.
General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems is teamed with Austal as platform-mission systems-engineering agent, and will provide the JHSVs’ open-architecture computer system as well as communication, navigation, and aviation-control systems. Kongsberg Maritime is providing a JHSV helicopter-operations surveillance system.
The JHSVs will be capable of transporting 600 short tons, or 312 Army or Marine Corps personnel (including Special Forces units) and their weapons, equipment, and vehicles for combat and humanitarian-relief operations. The ships will have no combat capability, but will be built with a helicopter deck able to accommodate MH-53 transport helicopters and an off-load ramp for launch and recovery of special-operations craft.
The Navy’s first ship, the Vigilant, is scheduled for delivery to the Military Sealift Command in 2013, and the second, the Fall River, (JHSV-4), in 2014.