New high tech, high-speed ship could rapidly deploy U.S. forces

Christopher Holton,
Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2003

First in a three-part series

Bollinger/Incat is offering the Pentagon a versatile, high-tech ship that “transform” U.S. maritime capabilities—in more ways than one. The 21st century has proven that the United States must be prepared to fight asymmetric wars around the globe--often two or more simultaneously. To effectively fight such conflicts, rapid deployment is absolutely essential. Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s ability to rapidly deploy forces to trouble spots around the globe is lacking.

The tri-hull ship can carry more than 700 tons of cargo at speeds averaging 35 knots.
In operations from Desert Storm to Iraqi Freedom, our armed forces have demonstrated that technology has revolutionized warfare. America's television screens have been filled with images of sophisticated, precision-guided munitions being dropped from equally sophisticated stealth aircraft to strike targets in the dark of night. The military has made great advances in the combat arms arena thanks to technological advances.

Despite these advances, the Pentagon’s ability to move assets to theaters of operations tens of thousands of miles from our shores is stuck squarely in the 1960s. Our airlift capacity is less than it was during the Cold War and the majority of the aircraft doing the heavy lifting do not really offer significant capacity beyond those offered by aircraft 30 years ago. Moreover, airlift has always been severely limited—and likely always will be severely limited in terms of its utility in transporting sufficient warfighting capability around the world.

Sealift is in even worse shape. The majority of our sealift ships sail to distant lands at speeds no greater than that of troop transports a generation ago. As was shown first in Desert Storm, and more recently in Iraqi Freedom, it takes as long as a month to move heavy units around the world to fight our battles. And, believe it or not, ships traveling at 16 knots can still often move heavy assets overseas quicker than airlift.

Bollinger/Incat has developed an interesting solution to this problem and is offering it to the U.S. military. That solution is the High Speed Wave Piercing Catamaran. Bollinger/Incat is a joint venture between Bollinger Shipyards, builder of a variety of high-speed Navy and Coast Guard patrol combatants and Incat Tasmania Pty Ltd. of Australia, builder of the world’s fastest passenger ferries. Their ship is already proven and has been in use in hundreds of applications around the world for years. Because it is an “off-the-shelf” item, Bollinger says it can be made ready for US military use relatively quickly. Furthermore, the Navy, Army and Marine Corps have already tested this revolutionary vessel in operational environments, including in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Bollinger Shipyards have excellent track record and reputation in supplying high-speed combatants for the Coast Guard and the US Navy Special Warfare Command. They have also produced ships and small craft for the US Army and foreign navies. They are the largest vessel repair company in the Gulf of Mexico region with 14 shipyards and 42 dry docks in Louisiana and Texas.

The Defense Department has leased and tested two of these vessels: the HSV-X1 Joint Venture and the TSV-1X Spearhead. A third ship was delivered on 12 August, the HSV-2 Swift. HSV stands for High-Speed Vessel and TSV stands for Theater Support Vessel, but all three of the ships share the same baseline design. If adopted and developed to their potential, that design could conceivably form the basis for almost every ship class in the US Navy, from logistics support, to sealift, to mine warfare, to anti-submarine warfare, to patrol, to special warfare and amphibious assault. The design has potential for everything short of large-deck aircraft carriers and could even be potentially evolved into a Sea Control Ship/STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) vessel. In short, the wave piercing catamaran design could prove to be the most versatile ship in the history of modern naval warfare.

The Bollinger/Incat wave piercing catamarans are part of the Defense Department’s Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator program. The design is being used to demonstrate and evaluate its ability to perform during certain mission scenarios, assess its usefulness to the military and refine the requirements for the next generation of ships. If all goes well, in a few years, the Pentagon could have dozens of these ships performing a variety of missions.

The high speed vessel has potential use as a sealift asset, a mine warfare asset, an amphibious assault ship and as a special warfare platform for use by the US Navy/Marine Corps and the US Army.

High Performance

The catamaran’s capabilities are far beyond anything currently in use. The first capability is obviously speed. Unlike most auxiliary ships, which top out around 20 knots on a good day, the wave piercing catamaran has no problem reaching speeds of 42 knots or greater and can cruise much faster than any other sealift vessel in the world. In fact one of Bollinger/Incat’s vessels, the HSV-X1 Joint Venture, transited the North Atlantic Ocean in winter conditions in just 5 days and 17 hours at an average speed of 27 knots—without refueling! The brand new Swift achieved 47 knots on sea trials.

Speed is the wave piercing catamaran’s stock in trade. Three Incat vessels have held the prestigious Hales Trophy for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. An Incat vessel set the current record in 1998, with an average speed for the crossing of over 41 knots.

Colonel Michael Toal, Director of Combat Developments for Army Transportation, pointed out that the TSV’s speed is extremely valuable:

“In an unsafe world speed is an even more priceless commodity. You can’t buy back time. Once time has passed it has passed forever.

And Chief Warrant Officer William Davis had this to say:

“The speed of the HSV is phenomenal. This boat is highly maneuverable. You can spin it on a dime. You can be going 40 knots and come to a dead stop in just over a boat and a half’s length.”

Range and endurance are also not problems for the wave piercing catamarans. They are designed to have a cruising range of 4,000 nautical miles at 20 knots and can be refueled at sea. In fact, the Joint Venture circumnavigated the globe in 31 sailing days over a period of 7 months, traveling from Australia through the Panama Canal to the US Gulf Coast, then on to Little Creek, Virginia. She then made her less than 6-day Atlantic crossing to the United Kingdom. From there, she conducted exercises and tests in the extreme weather conditions along the coast of, and in the fjords of, Norway, From there, responding to the call for support for the war on terrorism, Joint Venture proceeded to Gibraltar and on through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal to the coalition counterterrorism base in Djibouti. Then she sailed on to the Persian Gulf. After serving in Gulf waters, she crossed the Indian Ocean and proceeded back across the Pacific Ocean to the US west coast.

Sealift for the Army, Navy and Marines

The wave-piercing catamaran is under consideration by the Army, Navy and Marine Corps for fast sealift. Thus far the Army has tested the vessel the most thoroughly and it is now coveted as a new Theater Support Vessel (TSV). The TSV is a vital part of the US Army’s plans for Transformation. This new high-speed vessel will greatly enhance intratheater deployment and logistics support for US Army units around the world. The TSV’s capabilities—speed (in excess of 40 knots), cargo capacity (1,250 tons) and flexibility (a shallow draft of under 15 feet)—will provide the Army with a potent, new rapid deployment capability for responding to crisis situations anywhere in the world.

Getting troops, weaponry, equipment and supplies to the fight is a complex and difficult mission. Today the military relies almost exclusively on airlift and slow, deep-draft vessels to get where it needs to go. Both of these methods have severe limitations that the TSV can eliminate.

The chief advantages that the TSV offers over traditional sealift are speed (40 knots versus 20 knots) and shallow draft (12 feet versus 34 feet).

The TSV also has substantial advantages over airlift.

Whereas the US Air Mobility Command’s largest transport, the C-5 Galaxy, can carry 2 M1 Abram tanks, the 98 meter TSV can carry 10—two reinforced platoons. The 112-meter TSV can carry 16 M1s, greater than an entire tank company. The USAF C-17 can carry just one M1 and the C-130 cannot lift the M1. Just as importantly, the TSVs can transport all of the tank crews with their tanks, which need little or no special preparation for the lift, which means they can literally roll off and be ready to fight at the destination.

The C-5 and the C-17 can carry two M2/M3 Bradley fighting vehicles. The C-130 cannot lift the Bradley. The 98-meter TSV can carry 20 Bradleys and the 112-meter TSV can carry 32 Bradleys—plus all of their crews!

Another weapons system designed to transform the US Army is the new Stryker wheeled armored vehicle, which is supposed to replace the Abrams and Bradley in some missions requiring rapid deployment. Well, if the Army is going to depend on the Air Mobility Command for rapid deployment, the Stryker will do little better than the current “heavies.” The C-5 can only carry 4 Strykers, the C-17 can carry 2 Strykers and the C-130 can carry 1 Stryker, and the Stryker must be partially dismantled for the airlift, necessitating set-up at the destination. In contrast, the 98-meter TSV can lift 34 Strykers and the 112-meter TSV can lift 47 Strykers.

“The beauty of this technology is that we can deliver a combat ready force, complete with soldiers, full armor, full fuel, full ammo, complete with situational awareness and with its complete set of leaders. No other platform can do that today.
Colonel Genaro Dellarocco, US Army

Given these numbers, plus the other demands on USAF airlift capacity, the TSV would be capable of moving heavy ground units more quickly and efficiently than airlift.

The TSV enjoys an advantage over both conventional sealift and airlift in that it does not require extensive facilities for unloading. Large sealift vessels obviously require deepwater port facilities or lighters at the scene to unload their cargo. The TSV can get into ports that current sealift vessels cannot. Airlift assets usually require lengthy runways and airfield facilities, assets not needed by the TSV.

Operational tests with the new Stryker Combat Brigade demonstrated that the TSV is truly revolutionary. An Army officer testified to that fact:

“I’m not hung up on a catamaran design hull, but I am hung up on speed, 45 knots. I am hung up on moving people with my equipment. In a battle situation, the ship can bring 40 Strykers—two companies—to a hotspot very quickly. It doesn’t require a lot to load this vessel, it does not take a lot to unload this vessel. Incredibly, the ship requires a minimum water depth of only 15 feet in which to operate. In practical terms, that increases the number of ports accessible to the ship by a factor of five. That’s an awesome thought, we establish warfare on our terms, not the enemy’s.” Major General Robert Dail, US Army

In the age of terrorism and asymmetric warfare, the ability to use more ports is very important for security. Large, deep-draft sealift ships are usually limited to large port facilities near big population centers, often in Third World Islamic nations. Such arrangements complicate security concerns and issues. The TSV would allow much more rapid transit and much more rapid offloading in areas not necessarily adjacent to the large population centers that can be the breeding ground of terrorists.

Here is an example of the benefits that the HSV/TSV’s unique capabilities offer, as described by Navy Captain Philip G. Beirel:

“It’s incredibly maneuverable. Morehead City is not an easy channel, and I can pull in and out with no assistance. I don’t even need line handlers.”

The TSV demonstrated its flexibility in Exercise Millennium Challenge 2002 while being operated by the Navy/Marine Corps team. Commander Dean Chase of the Navy Warfare Development Command was duly impressed:

“To get a ship of this size into this basin is a feat unto itself. The capability just doesn’t exist in our inventory today.”

The HSV/TSV has a great deal of potential in amphibious warfare as well. Marine Major Larry Ryder sees great potential in the vessel:

“It gives us a capability to go into places we’ve never been before. It has a combination of high speed, shallow draft and maneuverability.”

Not surprisingly, the Military Sealift Command of the US Navy has taken notice of the TSV’s capabilities. The Marine Corps has tested the HSV/TSV in virtually “every clime and place;” from the California coast near San Diego to the fjords of Norway, the Bollinger/Incat vessel has met every challenge and passed every test. In the process, the TSV has been certified with a flight deck capable of handling the Corps’ CH-46E Sea Knight, UH-1N Huey and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters, as well as the Navy’s SH-60 Seahawk and the Army/Air Force MH-60 Nighthawk.

In its troop/equipment transport configuration, the vessel features roll on-roll off deployment from its hydraulically operated vehicle ramp, which has the capacity to deliver all military vehicles up to and including the 70-ton M1 Abrams main battle tank. The TSV/HSV can also deploy the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Assault Vehicle while underway. Teamed up with the Corps’ new high-speed, high-tech Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle, the HSV/TSV will add a new dimension of speed and mechanization to the Marines’ trade, amphibious warfare.

In the next installment of this 3-part series we will examine the TSV/HSV's potential utility in sealift scenarios as well as its excellent track record in tests, exercises and operations around the world.

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