The Westpac Express fast ferry ship has been instrumental in changing the way the US Navy approaches sealift in the Western Pacific. It’s fast enough to substitute for airlift in many cases, and large enough to move a Marine battalion with its gear. Early trials went very well, and the innovative designs and performance of Australian shipbuilders Austal and Incat laid a foundation of manufacturing experience and customer comfort that led to the innovative GD/Austal trimaran design for the new Independence Class “Flight 0″ Littoral Combat Ship, while spawning a major acquisition program in the Joint High-Speed Vessel (JHSV).
HSV Westpac Express isn’t a Navy-owned ship; technically, it’s a chartered vessel. In July 2005, we noted an 18-month extension to its charter. In 2006, that service period was extended still further via a new charter, lasting up to 5 years. During that charter’s period, a bankruptcy in Hawaii created an opportunity to buy the Austal-built catamaran Superferry MV Huakai, which will replace Westpac Express in the Pacific. Until then, the USMC needs one more contract extension.