Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Musings: Lifting the Veil: Part VI

OK, I’m finally able to get back to this saga.

Let's start with a recap of the first five parts. In response to new “enemies” like China, the military is seeking new vessels that are smaller, faster and more versatile than traditional warships, and able to operate in both deep and littoral (nearshore) waters.

Two types of craft are emerging from this push to develop a new ship. One is the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Two prototypes are now under construction, one of them at the Austal USA shipyard that built the Superferry. The Navy plans to choose one design and move forward with awarding contracts in 2010. However, the overall program is in question because the costs are much higher than expected.

Another LCS prototype, the Sea Fighter (X-Craft) also has been built. It’s smaller, lighter and much cheaper than the two LCS now under construction, and also slightly smaller than the Superferry. It has been proposed for use as a surrogate to test LCS concepts and has been used in joint operations with the Coast Guard. It also could be outfitted with weaponry and electronics equipment to make it an operational navy ship, and could support helicopter and troop missions.

Hawaii Superferry Chairman John Lehman has endorsed the Sea Fighter, which is a category of LCS for which the Superferry design could qualify. Both are catamarans, built to commercial standards using "off the shelf" technology.

The third craft in the works is the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), which is intended to serve the Navy, Army and Marine Corps. It’s designed to move equipment and troops at high speed, in a variety of conditions.

According to Defense Industry Daily: “The JHSV will not be a combatant vessel. Its construction will be similar to high-speed commercial ferries used around the world, and the design will include a flight deck and an off-load ramp which can be lowered on a pier or quay wall – allowing vehicles to quickly drive off the ship.”

The article continues: “JHSV's shallow draft will allow it access to small austere ports common in developing countries. This makes the JHSV an extremely flexible asset ideal for three types of missions: support of relief operations in small or damaged ports; as a flexible logistics support vessel for the Joint Commander; or as the key enabler for rapid transport of a Marine Light Armored Reconnaissance Company or an Army Stryker unit.”

The navy, which is leading the program, released an RFP (Request for Proposal) for the JHSV contract last year, and the response period closed Sept. 10, 2007. One contractor will be selected this year to build all eight JHSVs. The navy is looking to pay $150 million for the lead ship, and $130 million for the other seven. Five will go to the Army, and the Navy will operate three for itself and the Marine Corps.

Its design specifications are based on lessons learned from leasing four high-speed commercial catamarans: the Venture, Spearhead, Swift and Westpac Express. The latter two are still in service. The Superferry is a near dead ringer for the Westpac Express, which also was built by Austal USA.

A March 2005 Pacific Business News article that announced Lehman was joining the HSF board stated: “With Lehman's expertise, the Superferry plans to operate a Westpac Express, essentially to carry military equipment and ferry vehicles from Oahu to the Big Island on a daily basis.”

The article continues: “This logistical plan will make it easier for soldiers to train when the Stryker Brigade comes to Hawaii. The brigade will be stationed on Oahu and conduct training exercises on the Big Island, Lehman said. "The Superferry is strong enough to take Stryker vehicles," he said.

The article also reported Tim Dick, who at the time was president and chairman of HSF, a role that Lehman later assumed, as saying: "Hawaii Superferry provided the Army with a cost analysis and expects to negotiate a long-term contract."

Although HSF has since distanced itself from Dick’s comment and declined to comment on potential military uses of the Superferry, the vessel itself already has caught the attention of military officials. [Update: I just talked to Terry O'Halloran of HSF and he said," The idea....that our vessel has some sort of military connection is absolutely false."]

Austal USA’s own website contains this nugget: “U.S. Navy and Army representatives have toured 'Alakai' throughout its construction as part of the ongoing evaluation of potential Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) platforms. The JHSV will provide a transformational capability supporting the global war on terrorism, major combat operations, and emerging operational concepts, including the Army Future Force and Seabasing.”

So that's the last major piece of the puzzle. I’ll wrap it all together tomorrow, when my article on this very same subject appears in Honolulu Weekly.

In the meantime, here's a picture of the Westpac Express. Look familiar? You can click on it to enlarge.


Anonymous said...

Good work. I can't wait to pickup the Honolulu Weekly this week.

Anonymous said...

There are at least two problems with this report.
1) Following the reported comments, Lehman (via Superferry spokesmen) announced that they had discovered that the PUC would not allow the Military operation as described and that they no longer had such interests. If you take Lehman's word for the former; you must also do so for the latter; or at least report it.
2) Sure Superferry looks like the one that became the Navy's Westpac rental; but, it also looks like the other 23 fast ferries Austral has built. Why would that seem unusual???

Anonymous said...

I believe SF has stated they wanted to build a total of five ships for use in Hawaii. John Lehman just purchased a ship building yard in Mobile, AL. You don't buy a ship yard to build the remaining three ships, but to build another 3 + 8, especially ones for $130M instead of $85M, sounds more reasonable to me.

It also sounds like a good reason why SF is willing to bleed $400k (as a low estimate) to $675k (reasonable estimate) per week while they clock performance hours between O'ahu and Maui.

You don't loose that kind of money unless you're investing in a bigger payoff.

Anonymous said...

Something doesn't make sense anonymous #1- if the PUC said no to military transport how come they transported the national guard to Maui?

I would like to see the official statement from HSF that they will never contract with the military for transport of equipment or troops- I'd also like to find a suitcase full of money and that ain't gonna happen either

Andy Parx

Anonymous said...

Mr. Parx, Lehman's comment, and the PUC's info, had to do with the regular travel of Stryker brigades for training.
An easy question to answer yourself if you knew how to research.

Joan Conrow said...

Dear Anonymous #2. I address your remarks about Lehman and the Westpac express in the final installment. I don't believe their PUC license prohibits such activities, it only requires that they maintain a regular schedule for passenger service. And PUC licenses can always be amended if circumstances change.

Anonymous said...

For brevity, one part was left out of the PUC statement:
Juan Wilson's main concern regarding the Stryker Brigade travel was about depleted uranium which may be present after training exercises.
The PUC tariff prohibits Hawaii Superferry from transporting hazardous materials, including non-conventional weapons, such as depleted uranium.

Anonymous said...

Joan, I like your inclusion of JHSV here. Also like that pic of Westpac Express; I have borrowed it from you, as a screensaver, thanks. It is BTW smaller than HSF.

Am reposting something here that I replied to Andy on Larry's blog as I think it relates here, "I don't believe they have to operate for 6 months to get the JHSV contract. This ship is one of only a few similar ships made by Austal in the U.S. Incat has much more of a track record making fast ferries used by the military. Austal/USA just needs to show through some operations that fast ferries made at their US shipyard are as seaworthy as the more proven Incat ships made elsewhere but already in more use by the military. Incat has the upper leg on technology and track record. Austal just needs to show they can build these JHSV in the U.S. to gain back some advantage in the bidding process. The 6 months minimum is just how long I think they are prepared to take losses here in HI to show this seaworthiness."

I also now believe that both Austal and Incat could end up getting some of the JHSV contact, and I believe that ultimately the LCS contracts will be scaled back to make way for JHSV contracts that will be expanded. I also believe that JHSV's could be built for and sold to navies allied with Anglo-American interests, so the eventual number is quite a bit more than just 8, probably a number of times that.

Aloha, Brad