In Innovation Push, Navy Brass Look to Repurpose Seabasing Vessels

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland -- New Navy seabasing and logistics ships may get a high-performance makeover -- or several -- as the service emphasizes innovation and ingenuity.

In a panel at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space conference Monday, the service's head of fleet readiness and logistics, Vice Adm. Philip Cullom, said ships such as the expeditionary fast transport (EPF) and the expeditionary transfer dock (ESD) offer a wide scope of possibility, with uncommitted available space and maneuverability.

The EPF, previously known as the Joint High-Speed Vessel, was designed for rapid intra-theater transport of cargo. The modestly sized 340-foot vessels have proven useful in places such as U.S. Southern Command, where larger ships are often unavailable to move troops and gear in theater.

Both the EPF and the ESD, a platform based on a civilian oil tanker with a submersible deck, are part of a family of seabasing ships, designed for logistics and prepositioning and envisioned as a partial substitute for scarce amphibious ships.

For Cullom, the boxy EPF shouts possibility.

"It has a tremendous amount of cube, volume that isn't necessary filled with anything, but it can be," he said. "It certainly helps us out from a logistics standpoint, but just imagine if you could be able to put a hospital inside of it, or you could put all sorts of different [mission] packages inside. Think of how that changes our agility, maneuverability and -- potentially -- lethality."

As far back as 2014, the Navy experimented with using the EPF as a miniature hospital ship or a floating ambulance, fitting it with an optimized package of medical gear and sending it to locations that might not be reached by the service's slow-moving full-sized hospital ships, Comfort and Mercy.

Cullom said he's looking at other uses for the EPF and the ESD and encouraging creativity from the fleet in employing the ships in novel ways.

"If you think about the cube below the main deck of those ships, there is no limitation," he said.

"It's open to the creativity of lots of folks, as long as we understand what the ships also have to do. [They may] add much more profoundly than they have in the past to what the Navy, or the Navy-Marine Corps-Coast Guard team can do."

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