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Navy Soft Power Stuck in the Mud

June 4, 2009

War is Boring’s David Axe reports that the USS Austin had some difficulties performing her soft-power mission in Africa:

The crew and mission staff aboard the Austin-class amphibious ship Nashville(pictured), commissioned in 1970, were in for a surprise when the 570-foot vessel approached the tiny port in Libreville, the bustling capital of Gabon, in West Africa. Despite earlier assurances from Navy planners and local officials, it turned out that the waters around Libreville’s Port Mole weren’t deep enough for the 17,000-ton-displacement Nashville. While the ship draws only 23 feet, fully loaded, she needs extra clearance for her pumps to draw in the seawater required by her old-fashioned steam power-plant. Nashville simply would’t fit at Libreville.

That discovery put a wrench in carefully laid plans for the Navy’s second, roughly annual “Africa Partnership Station” deployment, calling at Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon, Nigeria, Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe.

I am going to use USN logic here and see if we can find a solution. Now, if the 17,000 ton Austin wouldn’t fit into shallow waters, what could we replace her with…gaint supercarrier, 10,000 ton destroyer, nuclear attack submarine? Since my head is starting to hurt, I will go with my gut and say something like this:

HSV-2 Swift

HSV-2 Swift

I imagine by retiring 40 yeaq-old Austin, with the savings in annual maintenance alone we could lease another one of these excellent and very handy auxiliaries.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. leesea permalink
    June 6, 2009 12:23 am

    I read the NPG school study and gagged especially because erroneously selected the USNS Martin (on which I was test director) and an HSV and a CVN?!? as potential GFS support ships. Boy was that a stupid study!

    The Navy has still NOT identified a need for a warship as the APS/GFS support ship. Sure if the want to show the flag, or show off an old warship (which is apparently too deep) than an LPD would be their platform of choice, but it would NOT be mine. Use a real naval auxiliary or even a ship converted to GFS needs, but not an HSV. Hell use a sealift ship of which there are plenty in the inventory.

    Look guys lets get real, the reason the Navy is using the Swift for these missions is that it is CHEAP (and now even less so being time charter operated by Sealift Inc crew).

  2. B.Smitty permalink
    June 4, 2009 3:59 pm

    Hey Scott B,

    I’m not familiar with the NSWC report where they evaluated Absalon. The only report I recall reading evaluated CGs, HSVs, amphibs, some existing auxiliaries and a custom design.

    Do you have a link to it?

  3. Scott B. permalink
    June 4, 2009 1:25 pm

    One more thing on HSV-2 Swift : during African Lion Exercise in April 2005, her unfortunate USMC passengers (Utah reservists) went through an 18-hour exposure to 3-meter seas at 17 knots.

    On this occasion, MSI (Motion Sickness Incidence) affected 90% of these unfortunate USMC passengers. That’s right, 90%.

    Some of the comments made at the time (reported by McCauley, Pierce and Price) :

    “I feel as though I have a severe case of food poisoning”

    “No energy, can’t think”

  4. Scott B. permalink
    June 4, 2009 1:16 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “I love these studies. They probably would say a 10,000 ton destroyer would be the perfect GFS.”

    No, they didn’t say a 10,000-ton destroyer would be the perfect GFS. They did not even look at the destroyer variety in the study.

    Besides the ABSALON which they found to be very capable in the GFS role, they came up with the kind of purpose-built design that leesea would probably like : one that looks like an auxiliary with cranes and all the stuff.

    And they really didn’t like HSV-2 Swift in the GFS Role…

  5. Mike Burleson permalink
    June 4, 2009 1:01 pm

    I love these studies. They probably would say a 10,000 ton destroyer would be the perfect GFS. Give me something in service now, and proven to work in the shallow seas.

  6. Scott B. permalink
    June 4, 2009 12:44 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “I imagine by retiring 40 yeaq-old Austin, with the savings in annual maintenance alone we could lease another one of these excellent and very handy auxiliaries.”

    Back in February 2008, NSWC (Carderock Division) conducted a preliminary study of the Global Fleet Station Ship Concept.

    In the aforementioned study, NSWC (Carderock Division) evaluated the suitability of existing, off-the-shelf designs to Global Fleet Station type missions.

    One of the designs studied was JHSV-2 Swift. It was found poorly suited to GFS for a variety of reasons, including a top speed of 40+ knots speed which is totally irrelevant in GFS missions, a total dissimilitude to most host nation vessels which negates the value of embedding a foreign crew, the almost complete lack of organic offload capability and the lack of at least one medium-sized helicopter or even a landing pad to support basic helo operations.

    They also studied foreign GFS-Type Ships, of one which being HDMS Absalon. Here is what they said about HDMS Absalon :

    This ship is very capable in the GFS role

    The conclusion is this : for low-end contingencies in general, and in the GFS role in particular, rather than pursuing high-speed aberrations, what the US Navy should do is opt for a proven and affordable design that gets the job done.

    Such a design already exists : it’s called ABSALON


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