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Navy Sees Broader Role for Joint High Speed Vessel

The Navy has stepped up deployments of its new Joint High Speed Vessel in exercises around the globe as part of a broader effort to expand the mission set and operational use of the platform, service officials said.

Initially envisioned as a high-speed transport vessel, the JHSV is showing a broader range of applications such as logistical support, counter-trafficking and medical operations in support of larger platforms such as amphibious assault ships.

”It is truly a joint vessel to be delivered to combatant commanders as a fast, sizeable transport. The JHSV can help provide security cooperation support and counterterrorism assistance,” said Johnny Michael, Navy spokesman.  “There are plans to put them in every COCOM (area of responsibility). They are going to be everywhere.”

While Navy officials are clear to point out that the JHSV is designed to merely complement and not replace larger amphibs, the ship can play an increasingly distinctive role in a Navy operating far fewer amphibs than it would like.

Senior Marine Corps officials have said their services need at least 50 amphibious assault ship but the Navy and Corps together have said they must maintain a fleet of at least 33, due to budget limitations and other factors.

Using the JHSV for certain transport missions or logistical operations could, in some cases, free up larger amphibs for other critical missions, service officials explained.

“These are fast and maneuverable and can be used in littoral areas where there is a shallow draft. Instead of replacing the standard amphibious vessels, the JHSV can provide support to amphibious ships and deep water platforms,” Navy spokesman Lt Tim Hawkins told Military.com.

While the JHSV is not expected to perform combat missions, it could be used to rapidly resupply Special Operations forces in some instances, service officials have said.

The Navy has contracted for a total of 10 JHSV vessels with a shipbuilder called Austal USA headquartered in Mobile, Ala. So far, at least five JHSVs have been built for the Navy fleet with the sixth and seventh slated to arrive by 2016.

Engineered for high-speed transport, the JHSV can carry up to 600 tons and reach speeds greater than 35 knots. The vessel also has the ability to launch, land and recover rotary wing aircraft.

“It has sleep accommodations for up to 42 crew members and 104 personnel and airline-style seating for up to 312 people,” said Wayne Perry, spokesman for Military Sealift Command, Norfolk.

The platform is well suited for equipment, cargo or personnel rapid transport missions along with logistical support missions, evacuation missions, relief operations and sustainment efforts in an austere environment, Perry added.

“What you are seeing is a concerted effort to employ these complimentary platforms to engage our partners around the world and build partnership capacity -- especially when our surface combatants are pretty busy,” Hawkins said. “In the future, we are going to increasingly put them forward and have them engaged with our partners and allies.”

JHSVs are currently serving in or have recently served in the African region or Africom, the South American hemisphere, or Southcom and also the Pacific theater, or Pacom. In addition, the Navy plans to send a JHSV to the Middle East in the near future, Hawkins said.

Intentions to expand the role of the JHSV beyond mere transport have strengthened following the platform’s performance in a number of key international exercises.  The USNS Spearhead participated in a large-scale multi-national exercise off the coast of Africa this past March called Obangame Express 2015.

The exercise focused on regional cooperation between all navies of the Gulf of Guinea and included a large number of countries – such as the United Kingdom, Angola, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, Denmark, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Nigeria, Norway, Republic of Congo, Spain and Turkey, among others.

The USNS Millinocket, or JHSV 3, is participating in the Pacific Partnership 2015 exercise in the Pacific region. The exercise is also a large multi-national humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission.

“For the first time, a JHSV is helping to conduct this operation alongside a hospital ship, the USNS Mercy,” Hawkins explained.

The USNS Spearhead is now beginning a special exercise in the southern hemisphere called Southern Partnership Station slated to run from June of this year through October. As part of this humanitarian training mission, the Spearhead will visit a host of countries including Belize, Columbia, Guatemala and Honduras. The missions on this exercise will include counter-trafficking operations, port security and medical readiness operations, among other things.

USNS Chocktaw County, or JHSV 2, also briefly participated in this exercise by conducting an intra-theater lift operation, Hawkins said.

“You can use submarines, aircraft carriers, amphibious ships for normal operations to conduct partnership engagements around the globe. Why not use the JHSV to conduct some of those engagements to complement those other platforms,” Hawkins added.

For instance, the Navy is looking at using the JHSV more frequently with an emerging platform called the Mobile Landing Platform, or MLP.  Using a commercial tanker as a base platform, the MLP can launch and recover Landing Craft Air Cushions and is engineered for a wide range of ship to shore operations.

“The JHSV can be used to do ship-to-shore connector missions for the MLP,” Hawkins said.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com

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