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.
The US Navy’s JHSV ships won’t be the only ones of their kind. Oman, which already operates a pair of 65m Austal fast catamarans as civil ferries, has decided to add a pair of slightly larger ships for military use.
The USA’s JHSVs are 103m in length, but Oman has picked an “HSSV” based on Austal’s smaller 72m TSV design. Cargo payload drops far faster than length, from 600t fully loaded for the JHSV to just 320t for the HSSV, which also carries 69 crew with 69 fixed berths and can seat 250.
The Royal Australian Navy is on its way to fixing the crisis in its amphibious fleet, giving itself modernized FFG-7 and ANZAC Class frigates, and buying itself advanced new air defense destroyers. Without an adequate support fleet, however, the breadth of territory and ocean it has to cover will work against the RAN. The existing replenishment fleet is a combination of the old and the limited, so something has to be done. As of June 2014, something will be done – outside of Australia.
In January 2010, Damen Schelde announced a contract from the Dutch Defence Materiel Organisation to build a 28,000t “Joint Logistic Support Ship” (JSS), which will become the HNLMS Karel Doorman. The vessel is scheduled to launch in 2014, and will replace the retired 16,900t HNLMS Zuiderkruis.
The Dutch wanted a very versatile ship that can resupply other warships, transport significant loads of army equipment and vehicles, act as a floating headquarters, take on hospital duties, and embark up to 6 helicopters. That level of versatility will come with costs. Canada’s ill-fated JSS program had similar or larger ambitions, but the 3-ship, C$ 2.9 billion program was ultimately suspended when contractors couldn’t supply what Canada wanted at the prices demanded. Can the Netherlands be more successful? So far, the answer is “yes”.
A quick look at almost any modern warship shows a bewildering array of gear on its mast and upper surfaces. These “topside apertures” serve an array of functions, from communications, to data transmission, to electronic listening and defense. Not only do they disrupt ship smoothness, and hence radar profiles, when installed, but they can also be extremely difficult to integrate together so that object A’s transmissions aren’t interfering with critical service B. While firms like Thales in Europe pursue “integrated modular mast” technologies, the US Navy is aiming to go one step beyond. They’re funding “Integrated Topside” R&D to go beyond just a pre-packaged array, and turn all of these little bolt-ons into one common, smooth-running, and upgradeable basic architecture.
InTop for surface ships will be based on AESA radar technology, and aims to become an innovative, scalable suite of electronic warfare, information operations, and line-of-sight communications hardware and software. Its performance goals are to improve ships’ anti-radar profiles, increase communications bandwidth, and resolve electromagnetic interference and compatibility issues…
Lighterage is about loading or unloading ships using lighters (barges) that can form a sort of ad-hoc ramp or shuttle from ships at anchor; they are often used when a port’s dockside is too shallow for the ship, or dockside berths are unavailable. These modules greatly expand landing options for well-equipped militaries, and may be versatile enough to be used in sea-based transfers as well. Even so, lighterage is one of those quiet enablers that rarely receives the attention it merits.
The ship was deployed on operations, and proved out a number of the concepts behind her construction, but questions about the long-term durability of composite hulls prevented the type’s adoption into full US Navy service. The ship has been pushed to a maritime technology experimentation and demonstration role, but her saga remains interesting.
At the end of May 2013, the German and Polish defense ministers signed a Letter of Intent on naval cooperation. What does that mean for Polish submarine plans?
Poland’s current submarine fleet includes 1 Russian Kilo Class boat, ORP Orzel, which was commissioned in 1986. Another 4 modernized U207 Kobben Class pocket submarines of German design were given to Poland by Norway, who added 1 Type 207 used for spares/ training. The tiny 435t Type 207s were commissioned in Norway from 1964 – 1967, which doesn’t leave them much of a safe lifespan.
In late May 2013, Thales UK signed a 10-year, GBP 600 million Sensor Support Optimisation Project (SSOP) with the Ministry of Defence. It extends the 2003 Contractor Logistics Support deal that covered electronic warfare/ ESM and sonar system support on an array of submarines and surface ships.
SSOP coverage includes all British submarine classes (SSN Trafalgar and Astute classes, SSBN Vanguard Class), Type 45 Daring Class destroyers, Type 23 Duke Class frigates, and the Hunt and Sandown Classes of minehunting vessels. It also covers all visual systems (periscopes etc.) for all Royal Navy submarines, which had been a separate contract with Thales UK’s optronics business in Glasgow. This progression is familiar to readers who have followed British Future Contracting for Availability practices over the last several years.