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Marines Charge Ahead on HSVs

December 6, 2009

MV Westpac Express in Marine Corps service, offers a high speed transportation alternative.

I enjoyed the discussion we had recently on high speed vessels, especially within the post “Army Leads in Amphibious Techniques“. Within the comments there was this little tidbit from small boats expert Lee Wahler:

Mike the JHSVs are meant to discharge at austere ports – once again a term of art not a beach meaning alongside a pier without facilities. The dirty little secret is that the HSV WestPac Express has been discharging to several beaches prepared by the Marines since it entered service more than SEVEN years ago. But beaching is NOT a Joint rqmt its a “service-unique” one so guess what not in JHSV specs.

Not a perfect solution but definitely a solution as the Navy budget continues to crash and burn and solutions must be found for the Navy’s shrinking number of giant multi-billion amphibious ships. The Marines haven’t been completely distracted by the Big Ship syndrome either, but as usual are exploring new ideas to maintain their lead in this technique. Here is an fascinating story of high speeds vessels in use by the Leathernecks, from the Okinawa-based Marines:

HSV offers transportation alternative to III MEF
Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Denny

OKINAWA, Japan (December 4, 2009) — The Westpac Express is a high speed vessel that III Marine Expeditionary Force uses to transport Marines to other countries for exercises and operations.

The vessel is a fast, newer and cost effective option of transporting Marines and equipment, said J. Adam Parsons, the Westpac Express shipmaster.

“HSVs are used in today’s military because of their light weight and high speed capabilities,” said Parsons. “Typical transport ships travel at speeds of 10-14 knots, whereas the Westpac Express can travel at 39 knots with a full load.”

The ship is water jet propulsion driven. Four Caterpillar 3618 diesel engines pump water from beneath the ship and forces it out the rear of the ship to propel it forward.

The HSV was originally built in Australia as a civilian transport vessel. The Marine Corps leased the vessel in 2001 to test its transportation capabilities.

The ship can carry more than a C-17 aircraft, said Parsons.

“The Express can carry 900 service members and 450 tons of equipment, along with crew of 15,” said Keith A. Amberg, the chief mate in charge of cargo and deck operations on the Westpac Express. More

Loading and unloading ramps are located at both front and rear of vessel.

During transport, Marines are able to walk freely and relax in the lounge area on the passenger deck of the Westpac Express. Where do I sign up?!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. leesea permalink
    December 13, 2009 6:10 pm

    The WPE and its improved version in the JHSV are THE transformational ships for tactical sealift. What many are missin is that they also supplant the need for inadequate airlift which too often failed the Marines in III MEF. A more efficient and cost effective means to get around the whole theater in a timely manner.

    Sealift ship have and will continue to augment warships for many forms of lift capacity. The LPD17s will never be built in enough numbers to provide needed presence and it would appear are inadequately armed to be in dangerous waters.

    So do you want a few fancy warships or many good sealift ships (even though you may need both)? Unfortunatly it may come down to an either or situaion when it should be the Navy needs to buy both types?!

  2. Graham Strouse permalink
    December 8, 2009 4:56 pm

    I dunno, Mike. I think that ship just looks like some sexy yacht that Paul Allen or Roman Abramovich would build to get girls… ;)

  3. leesea permalink
    December 7, 2009 10:52 am

    I have actually seen the cargo manifests for WPE its typical load is about 900 troops and 300 tons of cargo. The JHSV cannot load that combination. Less troops and smaller deck area. It has a quarter ramp, crane and flight deck which the WPE does not.

    Austal has a tendency to hype its ships’s specs online.

    The proper beach gradient is all that is needed.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 7, 2009 6:29 am

    I adjusted the brightness on the photo, where you can now see more clearly the bow ramp is there and open.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 7, 2009 6:24 am

    The nature of the beast. If you want a ship to float on top the shallow water, it has to be of light construction.

  6. December 7, 2009 5:07 am

    I am more bothered by thin hulls digging in to the beach. The feature that gives the vessels is supposed speed advantage.

  7. C. Roberts permalink
    December 7, 2009 12:53 am

    I think you’ll find the cargo capacity of the JHSV is more than that of WestPac Express. According to the Austal website the JHSV is designed for 635 tonnes of personnel, supplies and equipment (PSE) plus enough fuel for 1200 miles at 35 knots.
    The same source says WestPac Express has a maximum deadweight of 790 tonnes – and deadweight includes fuel, fresh water and other consumables as well as PSE. It also says it uses 5.3 tonnes of fuel per hour and does 36 knots. By rough calculation that’s 33.3 hours for 1200 miles = 177 tonnes of fuel. 790 – 177 = 613 tonnes left for payload and (non-fuel) consumables.

  8. leesea permalink
    December 6, 2009 9:49 pm

    The problem is that the Marines have wrapped all their lift rqmts together and see the ONLY solution as LPD17. Whereas in fact sealift ships have been augmenting amphibious forces for centuries carrying that what is now called administrative lift capacity.

    I don’t see the LPD17s zipping along at 33 knots either? When one is trying to move a lot of troops and some cargo in manuver situations is when the JSHVs will come into their forte. After the assualt, the big damn target LPD17 will be sitting 150 nm offshore discharging to the JHSVs which will be humping it up and down the shoreline to where the Marines need to get.

    Its not so much “cheaper” as more cost effective ways to lift troops and cargo which are NOT needed for forcible entry operations.

    Photos sent

  9. B.Smitty permalink
    December 6, 2009 9:29 pm

    Lee said, “If you want berthing get a passenger aka troop ship! They tried to add 1000 berths to the MLP and its costs went to $900 mil per ship. In reality the WPE and JHSV are meant for administrative lifts AND only for intra-theater transport. So whats wrong with airline type seats? Have you not slept in one?

    I agree completely. HSVs (ala Westpac Express and JHSV) are not a solution for replacing amphibious ships like the LPD-17.

    If we want cheaper amphibious ships, we should just build cheaper amphibious ships. If the Europeans can do it, we can too. (or at least I hope we can)

  10. leesea permalink
    December 6, 2009 7:56 pm

    If you want berthing get a passenger aka troop ship! They tried to add 1000 berths to the MLP and its costs went to $900 mil per ship. In reality the WPE and JHSV are meant for administrative lifts AND only for intra-theater transport. So whats wrong with airline type seats? Have you not slept in one?

    The beaches which WPE go to are pre-determined and tied specifically to USMC bases. WPE’s ramp is short and needs to land on a platform. That is why I said “prepared. Its not like they can drop in anywhere.

    Another point of comparison the WPR lifts almost a full battalion and its cargo capacity ranges up to 500 tons (depending on pax load and range). That is much higher than the JHSV which has bigger crew spaces and berthing of sorts. The Marines wanted a fast truck and they got one. I was in on the first charter. They also had a very tight cost limit. I’d have to check the MSC contracting page but last time I checked the WPE cost $35k/day. And was time chartered for almost five years lately.

    BTW the US Congress is trying to cut off MSC’s ability to charter such foreign built ships. They want to limit term of charter to two years. I can tell you having chartered many ships that would be a show stopper.

    Write your congress person IF he or she does not have a backyard shipyard to support!

    Mike I will try to dig up some ramp details to send you by SEPCOR

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 6, 2009 7:42 pm

    I can faintly see a bow ramp in the top photo. The article says yes.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    December 6, 2009 6:10 pm

    Maybe Lee can enlighten us. I wonder how much prep and survey has to be done before they land it? And at what gradients and beach conditions is it practical?

    Also, I don’t ever recall seeing a bow ramp. Is there one?

  13. December 6, 2009 2:06 pm

    Yes there is a reason why amphib’s are big. Remember as big as they are they only carry minimum stores. Very much tip of the spear.

    I want to see photo’s of these beachings. Not because I doubt it, but because I am interested.

  14. B.Smitty permalink
    December 6, 2009 12:56 pm

    IIRC, HSVs like Westpac Express don’t even have Marine berthing, right? Just airline-style seats? So while they are useful for transport, they can’t sustain Marines offshore in an area of operations.

    You could install modular berthing, but then you’d take away from payload spaces.


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