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.