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U.S. Navy Orders Two More All-aluminum JHSV (Joint High-Speed Vessels)

New connectors to be built by Austal USA on the Gulf Coast

The U.S. Navy has exercised contract options funding the construction of the eighth and ninth Joint High-Speed Vessels (JHSV), at Austal USA’s Mobile, Ala., shipyard. The construction contract for these high-speed catamarans for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) is valued at approximately $321.7 million.

The first JHSV (JHSV 1), USNS Spearhead, has been launched and will be delivered sometime in the first quarter of 2012. Spearhead will be based in Little Creek, Va., and will commence operational assignments for the Navy in the first quarter of fiscal year 2013.

JHSV has a crew size of 22 civilians who operate the vessel, while additional military mission personnel can embark as required. The JHSVs have berthing for up to 146 personnel, and there is also airline-type seating for 312 troops. The first four JHSV ships will be manned with MSC civil service mariners and the balance will be contract manned.

USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1) afloat in preparation for its Sept. 17, 2011 christening ceremony at Austal USA in Mobile, Ala. The 338-foot-long aluminum catamarans are designed to be fast, flexible and maneuverable even in shallow waters, making them ideal for transporting troops and equipment quickly within a theater of operations. U.S. Navy photo Courtesy Austal USA

True to its commercial ferry lineage, JHSV has significant internal volume for vehicles, but is strengthened for very heavy equipment, such as M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks and mine resistant armor protected vehicles, as well as the mechanized wrecking cranes large enough to handle them. The ramp can deploy from the stern and can be angled up to 45 degrees to permit loading from the side. The ramp folds in half, then is pulled upright against the hull when under way.

Commercial ferries have passenger decks, but JHSV’s seating has additional space for combat-equipped troops, and even has racks for stowing weapons. JHSV has a flight deck that can operate an MH-60 Seahawk helicopter, although it does not have a hangar. The flight deck is large enough to launch and recover a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter.

The 1,500-ton ferry has a length of 338 feet and a beam of 93 feet. It is powered by four MTU diesel engines and four waterjets, and can achieve speeds up to 43 knots.

“The JHSV is considerably stronger than our previous ferries to be able to handle high sea states – up to sea state 7 –  during open ocean transits,” says Anton Schmieman, a business development manager at Austal USA.

The second ship in the class, Choctaw County (JHSV 2), is taking shape in Austal’s final assembly bay and modules for JHSV 3 are being constructed in the Module Manufacturing Facility. Official keel laying is scheduled for April 12.

The prototype for JHSV was HSV-X1 Joint Venture. She was followed by the 321-foot HSV-2 Swift, also a high-speed catamaran originally leased by the Navy as mine countermeasures and now operated by Sealift Inc., under charter to MSC.

Austal USA is building the USS Independence (LCS 2) class of littoral combat ships for the U.S. Navy at its Mobile facility. The yard was also responsible for construction of high-speed catamarans, Alakai and Huakai, for Hawaii Superferry. The ships were taken out of service and came under the control of the Maritime Administration. They have now been transferred to the U.S. Navy.

Edward H. Lundquist is a retired U.S. Navy captain and a principal science writer for MCR Federal, LLC.


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...