Sunday, January 6, 2008

Musings: Lifting the Veil: Part IV

The rain returned last night and departed before I rose, leaving muddy rivulets running along the road and all the vegetation drenched. The ironwood thicket produced its own after-shower, releasing drops with a loud plop on the glossy, flat leaves of shell ginger.

Ran into Andy and his two dogs, and he was excited over the headline in yesterday’s The Garden Island predicting Superferry service to Kauai was “likely on hold until ‘09.” Hawaii Superferry plans instead to offer a second voyage, in the afternoon, to Maui.

“As we have always stated, our business model is dependent on running two trips per day, and right now we’ve got to meet those needs,” The Garden Island quotes CEO John Garibaldi as saying.

Although the announcement was couched in terms of making service more convenient for commercial freight and passengers, questions remain about just how many people want to travel between Oahu and the Valley Island.

Yesterday’s voyage delivered “less than 25 cars and 2 motorcycles” to Maui, and just "35 cars and 1 large commercial vehicle" took the return trip to Oahu, according to counts provided by Brad Parsons.

Because the ferry arrived about 45 minutes early, Brad did not get to Kahului Harbor in time to count passengers, but said: “In most prior days the number of people has averaged 2 to 3 times the number of vehicles.” Now why would a company add a second run to the same island when the first run has such low rider ship?

While we're on the topic of unanswered questions, The Honolulu Advertiser today has a front page story on the old news (which I published in Honolulu Weekly back in October) that the state initially told HSF an Environmental Assessment would be needed, but then dropped that requirement.

The big question, which the Advertiser doesn’t answer, is why was that requirement dropped?

The Advertiser reports Superferry CEO John Garibaldi making his same, oft-repeated disingenuous claim that the company did not want to trigger an environmental review because it could take several months to a year or more to complete and could jeopardize the project's federal loan guarantee and private investments.

But as I reported in the Weekly, the feds already had determined when processing Superferry’s MARAD guaranteed loan application that such a review was needed under national environmental laws. The feds eased up only after the state gave Superferry the EA exemption.

So that leads us again to the question, why the big rush to get the boat in the water?

As I reported in the past three posts, the Navy is developing a new type of craft known as a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) that is able to navigate both in the open sea and shallow near shore (littoral) waters, which makes it handy for fighting China, which military officials have determined is the current big threat to American interests.

From this process emerged the X-Craft, a prototype Littoral Surface Craft produced by San Diego-based Titan Corp. under a $59.9 million Navy contract. The experimental craft, whose design, size and operating capacity is akin to the Superferry’s, was pushed through the appropriations process by San Diego Rep. Duncan Hunter and endorsed by John Lehman, the principle investor in Hawaii Superferry.

The craft, christened Sea Fighter by Hunter’s wife, was launched in early February 2005. By July 6 of that year, according to Titan’s website the Sea Fighter “was formally accepted by the U.S. Navy after successfully completing the sea trials jointly required by the Navy and the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS).”

The website for Titan, which was purchased for $2.65 billion by L-3 Communications in 2005, goes on to state:

Sea Fighter's sea trials included, in part, extensive certification testing ranging from maneuvering, cruise performance, and propulsion trials -- where the ship achieved a continuous cruising speed in excess of 50 knots -- to vibration, sound, and stern ramp operation trials.

"We built Sea Fighter to commercial standards," said Gene Ray, Titan's president, chairman, and CEO. "These successful, independent certifications by the American Bureau of Shipping --one of the worlds largest ship classification societies administering rules for high-speed vessel design and construction -- underscore Sea Fighters efficient design and advanced hull geometry that allow it to travel with ease at speeds greater than 50 knots."

When operational with the U.S. Navy, this high-speed, experimental aluminum catamaran will be a prime, state-of-the art resource for testing a variety of technologies that will allow the Navy to operate more effectively in littoral, or near-shore, waters. The 262-foot long, 72-foot beam Sea Fighter will be used to evaluate the hydrodynamic performance, structural behavior, mission flexibility, and propulsion system efficiency of high-speed vessels, as well as serve as a test bed for developmental mission packages, according to Titan’s website.

The following year, Hunter added $25.7 million to the fiscal 2007 defense authorization bill to upgrade the Sea Fighter — over the objections of the Navy, according to a June 8, 2006 “Congress Daily” article published on GovernmentExecutive.com.

The article reports: "The [House Armed Services] committee believes that deployment of Sea Fighter can demonstrate and validate many of the Navy's operational concepts for littoral warfare," according to language in the Navy research and development section of the committee report, under "Items of Special Interest."

The article also reports: The catamaran, which is large enough to land two helicopters, does not have a place in the Navy's ambitious 313-ship plan, which the Congressional Budget Office already views as potentially unaffordable. And the vessel has spent two of the last four months dry-docked for major repairs to its propulsion and other systems.

"For a ship that's brand new, it has a lot of problems," said one Navy official, who added that the service plans to send the catamaran to Panama City, Fla., for testing at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, the article states.

The article also contained these intriguing little nuggets:

The Navy official said he fears that Hunter views Sea Fighter as a "suitable substitute" for LCS, which costs about $250 million a ship. General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin are competing for the LCS prime contract.

Regarding the two ship programs, [House Armed Services Projection Forces Subcommittee Chairman Roscoe] Bartlett, [R-Md.] stressed that the Sea Fighter would not replace -- or even reduce purchases of -- the LCS, the Navy's preferred coastal warfighter.

Rather, it would provide the Navy with a "bargain" ship that could "easily operate alongside the LCS and provide our fleet force structure with an increased complexity making our future . . . Navy less vulnerable to the enemy," he said.

Both Hunter and Bartlett would like to produce more Sea Fighters, but Hunter said further development and testing is needed to determine the exact numbers needed, the article states.

And on that note, I’ll close for today and continue the saga tomorrow.

7 comments:

Mauibrad said...

Ohhh, wow, Joan, this is some good research. I had not found the Titan stuff yet. I'll have to take a good look at this today. This may be a cheaper competitor than Incat or Austal, both of which are expensive. I liked your comments on sea trials too. That's what Austal is doing now, here.

Aloha, Brad

Anonymous said...

"Great research" is right!
Does Duke Cunningham's involvement give anyone else an odd feeling about the HSF and the Seafighter? After he was convicted of corruption for defense related project kickbacks, it was revealed at the trial of an associate that there was a Hawaii connection. The details are straight out of a Hollywood movie, but one wonders if Cunningham was as transactional as the court record shows here:
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/politics/cunningham/20071018-9999-1m18wilkes.html

then is it possible that it didn't take a kickback to get he and Hunter to back a project the military says it doesn't want? What does something like that cost? What happens when a hiccup at the state level occurs to thwart the master plan, how is that solved by people who have (until recently) been able to throw money at their political problems? What does that cost? Whom would they have to pay? Who stepped into the fray and pushed to save the project at the risk of great political capital? Why?
Wonder if Duke & co. visited the anyone in town while he was on one of his junkets? Did that help the DOT remove the EIS requirement?
Hmmm....

Great work Joan, I can't wait to read more.

Joan said...

Thanks! I'll keep it coming.

Mauibrad said...

Joan, found a nice page on the X-craft Sea Fighter (FSF 1) with pics:

http://www.navsource.org/archives/
15/150101.htm

This seems like a cheaper, but smaller and faster version of the JHSV. Also, this is a Coast Guard vessel.

In Business 4 Good Campaign said...

Joan,

YOu are so close to the truth, it's scary. You want to take a guess at what the total procurement contract will be, just to build the 21st century replacements for the old LST's? Try 15 billion buckaroos. And the logical place to park those new boats? You got it, Toyota. Good Old Pearl Harbor.

Anonymous said...
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whdbyislander said...

I helped build the x-craft/sea fighter and most knew of the potential problems but were told to build per print. I don't know if I can be of any help but if you have any questions I would be happy to try and answer them.