U.S. Marines Extend Westpac Express TSV Ship Charter
After four years supporting the operations of the US Marine Corps’ Third Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) in the Western Pacific theater, Austal’s 101 meter aluminum catamaran “WestPac Express” has been re-chartered by the US Navy for a further 18 months.
Capable of sustaining fully loaded speeds of 36 knots, Westpac Express can rapidly deploy a complete battalion of up to 970 Marines and 663 tons of vehicles and equipment in a single lift, saving both time and money. Whereas the normal transit from Okinawa to South Korea aboard ferry or amphibious shipping would take two to three days, and moving a Marine infantry battalion by air would take fourteen to seventeen C-17 aircraft lifts, the same deployment could be carried out by WestPac Express in 24-30 hours, at approximately 25% of the cost of the airlift option and with far less inconvenience to Okinawa’s civilian population.
After a competitive bid process, the Theatre Support Vessel (TSV), now more commonly referred to as a High Speed Connector (HSC), was first chartered to the III MEF in July 2001 for a “proof of concept” period. This charter was the first time the US military had contracted a commercial vessel of this type for military support. The charter to III MEF was so successful that the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command signed a three-year charter in January 2002, again after receiving several competing offers.
During this period, Austal’s TSV has demonstrated operational availability of 99.7%, ease of loading, and the ability to simultaneously carry virtually every piece of equipment in the Marine Corps inventory including AAVs, LAVs, HMMWVs (Hummers) and AH-1W Cobra, UH-1N Huey and CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. Related vessels by Austal’s competitor Incat also serve in the US Navy as the TSV-1X Spearhead and HSV-2 Swift. See this DID article for more details.
The port of registry for WestPac Express is Mobile, Alabama. In 1999, Austal established a new shipyard joint venture there with Bender Shipbuilding and Repair, specializing in aluminum construction. Its techniques ensure that similar hull strength is provided, at a significant weight savings that can be used to increase cargo capacity.
With eight commercial vessels now completed, ranging in size from 25 to 58 meters, Austal’s Mobile, AL shipyard is currently building two 105-meter fast passenger-vehicle catamarans. A current expansion project due for completion in October 2005 will quadruple the size of the existing Mobile facility in preparation for commencement of the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) construction.
As a member of the General Dynamics Littoral Combat Ship (GD LCS) team, Austal is also the designer and lead yard for the construction of a new breed of combat ships specifically developed to operate in the littoral (near shore) environment. The GD LCS team design is based on Austal’s 127 meter, high speed trimaran platform, and construction of a potential 60 to 85 ships over a 15 year period ($12-15 billion) is a possibility for the winner under future US navy fleet requirements.
Additional Readings & Sources:
- Austal’s site: HSSV WestPac Express
- GlobalSecurity.org: HSV Program for high speed troop carrier vessels (incl. WestPac Express and TSV ships TSV-1X Spearhead and HSV-2 Swift). Given that “HSV-2” is also a designation for a variety of Herpes Simplex STD, it is possible that this designation will change to a TSV variant once the ship class is firmly established.
- Naval Sea Systems Command (April 2004) – HSV-2 proving to be Prototype for Littoral Combat Ship Program
- U.S. Marines (March 22/04) – HSV makes port in S. Korea, offloads Marines for training: Westpac Express proves worth by moving large shipments in short time
- “Seafighter” Experimental Vessel
- Navy Marine Corps News (June 4/05) – “Seafighter” Experimental Vessel: Initial Deployment News Video