The USA’s Spearhead-class, expeditionary fast transports
February 28/18: Christening Ceremony The US Navy has christened its latest Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport, the USNS Burlington, during a ceremony in Mobile, Alabama, on Saturday. It is the tenth of 12 Expeditionary Fast Transports being built for the Navy at a cost of $1.9 billion. Overseeing the event were the ship’s primary sponsors US Senator Patrick Leahy and his wife Marcelle Pomerleau. Marcelle Leahy said naming the ship after the Vermont city of Burlington was “fitting because Vermonters have long heeded the nation’s call to service.” Built by Austal USA, the vessel is designed to transport troops and equipment at high-speeds and in shallow waters for rapid deployment. The Navy says it can “carry 600 short tons of military cargo for 1,200 nautical miles, at an average speed of 35 knots.” This equates to the Burlington being able to carry 1,200,000 pounds for 1,380 miles at an average speed of 40 mph. It also has a flight deck for helicopter operations and an off-loading ramp for disembarkment missions.
When moving whole units, shipping is always the cheaper, higher-capacity option. Slow speed and port access are the big issues, but what if ship transit times could be cut sharply, and full-service ports weren’t necessary? After Australia led the way by using what amounted to fast car ferries for military operations, the US Army and Navy decided to give it a go. Both services leased Incat TSV/HSV wave-piercing catamaran ship designs, while the Marines’ charged ahead with very successful use of Austal’s Westpac Express high-speed catamaran. These Australian-designed ships all give commanders the ability to roll on a company with full gear and equipment (or roll on a full infantry battalion if used only as a troop transport), haul it intra-theater distances at 38 knots, then move their shallow draft safely into austere ports to roll them off.
Their successful use, and continued success on operations, attracted favorable comment and notice from all services. So favorable that the experiments have led to a $3+ billion program called the Joint High Speed Vessel. These designs may even have uses beyond simple ferrying and transport.
The JHSV Ships
The JHSV Program
Supplements: From Leased to Bought
Contracts & Key Events
FY 2011 – 2012
FY 2009 – 2010
FY 2005 – 2008
Appendix A: The US Military’s HSV/TSV Experience
Additional Readings & Sources
JHSV and its Relatives
News & Views
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