LITTLE CREEK, Va. — While most of the attention on the Pentagon’s Pacific pivot has been focused on the re-establishment and sustainment of the U.S. Navy’s stalwart blue-water fleet, the service is also seeking to anchor its forward presence with the development of sea sprinters that can race from point to point with people and supplies of all types.
The way the Navy brass sees it, ships like the Joint High-Speed Vessel (JHSV) and Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) will allow the U.S. to expand and solidify its footprint without investing and risking too much national collateral.
Indeed, the Navy is looking to work the two ships in tandem, leveraging their various strengths. The JHSV, for example, is not built to be a combat ship, and the vessel’s concept of operations (conops) calls for it to rely on other vessels for protection in dangerous areas.
“We will marry up with other ships,” says Capt. Douglas Casavant, master of JHSV-1 USNS Spearhead, which is a Military Sealift Command Vessel. “That will primarily be LCSs. They will plow the road that we will follow carrying the gear.”
It’s easy to see why Navy officials are starting to feel the love for the JHSV, which is a floating warehouse of sorts that can zip across relatively short distances with cargo ranging from tanks to helicopters to almost any kind of containerized cargo imaginable, along with the people needed to support the associated operations.
“What we have here,” Casavant said in showcasing the internal ship warehousing space during a Feb. 19 tour of his vessel, “is 20,000 square feet of flexibility.”
With 896 tie-downs to anchor cargo and containers, a 600-ton lift capability and spacious airplane-style seating for 312 passengers, the Spearhead can carry a lot of punch, or whatever else the U.S. needs.
Indeed, Casavant says his ship can be used as a hospital, triage area, training center or even a Special Forces staging platform.
Or, he says, there may be times when deployed forces need a quick extraction. “When those folks leave their areas, they’re usually in a hurry,” he says. “We’re made to sprint. This is the size of a football field going about 50 mph.”
The ship, he says, can reach its top speed of just more than 40 kt. in about a minute and a quarter. It can accommodate most Navy helicopters, and there are plans to test the capability to handle a hoveringOsprey.
With its stern ramp, shallow draft and unique bridge-wing maneuvering console, the Spearhead can operate in areas many other naval vessels cannot. The most difficult task now, Casavant says, could be finding out just what the ship is capable of and how the Navy can best leverage that potential.
“Getting the fleet to appreciate just what we are capable of, that’s going to be an undertaking,” he says. “A lot of ideas that may have sounded crazy in the past are now possible.”