The Navy last weekend christened a high-speed catamaran that will join a growing fleet of shallow-draft troop carrier and supply vessels that the Defense Department envisions as the future of riverine operations.
"In this world, it's important to have a flexible, adaptable, and affordable Navy" to meet ever-changing threats, Rear Adm. Lawrence Jackson said at the Saturday ceremony in the Mobile, Ala., shipyard of the Austal USA firm. "In this ship, the Millinocket, we have the perfect marriage of all three,” said Jackson, the deputy commander of the Navy's Military Sealift Command
The 338-foot, aluminum-hulled Millinocket was the third in the new class of Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSV) after USNS Spearhead, which is currently undergoing sea tests, and the USNS Choctaw County, which was christened in September.
A fourth JHSV, the USNS Fall River, named for the Massachusetts fishing town, is under construction by Austal, an Australian company. The Spearhead, the first in the class of ships, was delivered eight months late in December with initial cost overruns estimated at $31 million.
The Navy has plans for a total of 10 JHSVs at a projected cost of about $250 million each, and all will have the prefix designations of United States Naval Ships (USNS) as non-commissioned ships of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, rather than the USS prefix designation for commissioned Navy ships.
Sailors and troops will go aboard the Millinocket only when needed. The ship will have a crew of 21 civilian mariners from the Sealift Command and “military mission personnel will embark as,” the Navy said last week in a statement.
The Millinocket is the first ship of that name to join the fleet since the SS Millinocket, a freighter, was torpedoed by a German U-boat in World War II. In a statement last week, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said that naming the ship after the adjoining towns of Millinocket and East Millinocket in Maine “honors the immense contributions and support to the military made by the men and women of these communities and the state of Maine."
Karen G. Mills, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, broke the traditional champagne bottle on the Millinocket’s hull as the ship's sponsor.
The ship, capable of speeds of 35 knots (40 mph) with a 15-foot draft, has berthing space for up to 42 crew members and 104 troops, plus airline-style seating for another 312 troops.
The Navy has billed the JHSVs, and the new Littoral Combat Ships, as fast and flexible additions to the fleet that will allow for troops and their gear to debark quickly for coastal and riverine operations.
Sea trials for the Millinocket will be delayed for several months because of yet another accident involving the Carnival Cruise Line. The ship had been scheduled to go first from the Austal shipyard to the BAE Systems dry dock, also in Mobile, but the Carnival line’s 900-foot Triumph broke from its moorings at the BAE dry dock on April 3 in high winds, killing one worker and damaging the facility.