Military Sealift Command accepted delivery of the Navy's first joint high-speed vessel at Austal Shipyard in Mobile, Ala., Dec. 5.
USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1), a joint high-speed vessel, or JHSV, is designed for rapid intra-theater transport of troops and military equipment.
MSC will own and operate Spearhead and the eight other JHSVs that are under contract, with the option of a ninth additional vessel, to be built for the Navy. Spearhead is crewed by 22 civil service mariners working for MSC who will operate, navigate and maintain the ship.
Retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Four Kenneth Wahlman is the ship's sponsor. Wahlman was inducted into the Transportation Corps Hall of Fame in July 2004 after 38 years of distinguished contributions to the Army ranging from support to Naval Nuclear Power Unit at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, to assisting with the launch of the Army prepositioning fleet in 1987.
The Navy honored the ship's original U.S. Army-chosen name and sponsor after the 2011 decision to transfer five JHSVs - originally slated to be owned and operated by the Army - to the Navy. Subsequent JHSVs will be named after U.S. counties, such as USNS Choctaw County (JHSV 2).
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.
"Flexibility may be the best attribute of this ship," said civilian Capt. Douglas D. Casavant, Jr., Spearhead's civil service master who has been sailing for MSC for 23 years. "Our 20,000-square-foot mission bay area can be reconfigured to quickly adapt to whatever mission we are tasked with, for instance, carrying containerized portable hospitals to support disaster relief or transporting tanks and troops."
The JHSVs are capable of transporting approximately 600 tons of military troops, vehicles, supplies and equipment 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots, and can operate in shallow-draft, austere ports and waterways, providing U.S. forces added mobility and flexibility.
The JHSVs' aviation flight deck can support day and night flight operations for a wide variety of aircraft, including CH-53 Super Stallions. Each JHSV has sleeping accommodations for up to 42 crew members and 104 mission personnel; and airline-style seating for 312 people.
As MSC assets, all of the JHSVs will be civilian-crewed. The first four of the 10 projected vessels, including Spearhead, will be crewed by civil service mariners, while the next six are slated to be crewed by civilian mariners working for a private company under contract to MSC. Military mission personnel will embark as required by mission sponsors.
Following delivery to the Navy, Spearhead will participate in operational testing before sailing to its layberth in Little Creek, Va. The Navy expects the ship to begin conducting missions in the first quarter of fiscal year 2013.
MSC operates approximately 110 noncombatant, U.S. merchant mariner-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world, and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.
Article by Meghan Patrick Henderson, MSC Public Affairs