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JHSV–The LCS We Have Waited For?

February 10, 2010

Joint High Speed Vessel. Austal photo

New Wars has been a fan of Incat’s and Austal’s high speed ferries since the beginning. In February 2006 we wrote about “Weapons We Need More Of“:

Honorable mention goes to the Joint Venture class of fast catamarans which can do everything the new $250 million LCS can at 1/3 the cost.

$250 million? How naive we were back then! Yet in March that same year, our sanity returned with “LCS Cost Rises“:

Maybe they should have stuck with the original prototypes, such as the Joint Venture catamarans, or the smaller Sea fighter, which run about $50 million each.

That price on the cats may be a tad low, but still better than the $663 million for the “cheapest” littoral combat ship. I posted all this to point to something ongoing with the latest version of the old HSV catamarans, the Joint High Speed Vessel, also being built by Austal. Chris Cavas at Defense News has the scoop:

Pentagon plans to buy 10 Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSV) for use by the U.S. Army and Navy are expanding, driven by a recent decision that the 338-foot-long ships can carry out a wider variety of military missions. The ships will even be used, in some situations, as replacements for the current flock of small, 170-foot patrol coastal craft…

The ships cost about $160 million apiece and can hit 45 knots, with a cruise speed of about 35 knots. More than 300 Marines and their gear can be accommodated for up to four days. The ships will have a flight deck able to land an H-53 helicopter and a mission bay that can carry M1 Abrams main battle tanks.

The article goes on to say the Navy and Army will procure about 28 vessels. I have heard different numbers up to 41, but whatever. The point is the number is at least doubling, which makes us think this is the Plan B for the untried LCS class that have experience excessive cost overruns, mainly because of wishful thinking. The Navy is hedging its bets.

The HSV’s are tried and true motherships. They have not only been tested in numerous soft power operations, but in war zones, even though the Navy will insist they are at risk in such waters. Go figure. Unlike the “pirate buster” LCS, they have been there and done that, first in the East Timor Crisis in Australian service and later during the initial Invasion of Iraq in 2003, where Joint venture served as a “floating truck stop“. It was here the littoral combat ship took on new life, and I always wondered why not just build more fast catamarans instead of another grandiose, and doomed-to-failure shipbuilding program? The HSV’s are proof that warfare off the shelf works even for warships.

The ferry formally known as HMAS Jervis Bay. Author--Remi Jouan via Wikimedia Commons.

But the Navy would insist the new JHSV is not a warship and they are mostly right. Listen to this recent report from blog:

Manufactured by Austal USA’s Mobile shipyard and modeled on a commercial ferry, the vessel “is not designed or expected to be survivable against weapons effects encountered in combat missions,” according to the latest annual review by J. Michael Gilmore, director of operational test and evaluation at the Defense Department.

In a Friday statement, Navy spokeswoman Monica McCoy said the vessel is not designed to operate in uncontrolled environments and thus “does not require the survivability and ability to sustain damage like a surface combatant” ship, such as a destroyer.

Not a real warship, but a new way of thinking. As a mothership of systems, JHSV would support craft which would go into harms way like the remote mine hunter, Unmanned surface vehicles or “ghost frigates“, or even small patrol boats that it can refuel. This is the same function now expected of the more expensive and aluminum clad LCS, but at a quarter the cost. The problem being, LCS tries to be both warship and mothership in one package, a “do it all nothing well” warship that is hurting, not helping our abilities. But as a niche vessel, the JHSV can handle the mothership role very well, and has been doing so for most of a decade! So the Navy’s thinking here is correct, that they are not warships, but should support craft which are likethe following:

The Navy also has decided to keep the 13 PCs currently in its inventory, including three on temporary loan to the Coast Guard. The ships, built in the 1990s, will be refurbished and upgraded, Work said, “so they’re going to be with us well into the 2020s.”

Here is the team that will decide the JHSV’s worth. Motherships plus patrol ships, working in conjugation, each with a specific role, unlike the LCS which tries to do both. Here is the future of the frigate which we spoke of last week. Navy should just admit it made a mistake, and that it possessed the LCS it wanted all along with the high speed catamarans, now its offspring in the form of the Joint High Speed Vessel. Time to let go and admit you made a VERY costly mistake with the LCS hybrid. Literally a Cash Shocker!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. leesea permalink
    February 12, 2010 2:59 am

    I just know that taking a tactical sealift ship beyond that idiom into a warship is NOT doable easily. BTW both the Army and the Navy JHSVs will be simply that tactical sealif transports for the first several years of production. Suggested mods are not even in the SCN or FYDP. So think much later.

    Of course the Navy needs more escorts than the LCS will ever be able to do? Sure there are plenty they could easily buy BUT none in the budget.

    DER, I think a SeaRAM and couple of 30-35mm CIWS guns should be added to JHSV NOW!
    I don’t see how or why the USN would want to make JHSV into a FAC with those higher end missile systems?

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 11, 2010 7:00 am

    “I think there is NO WAY a JHSV as is could be re-done to be a full blown warship frigate.”

    Neither would I wish to see it a warship. I think the mothership role is extremely viable since it already has performed such functions in the early OIF as a mothership for Special Forces boats. It also has done refueling for craft as large as Avenger mineships as I pointed to in this link.

    Not thinking of JHSV as a warship will induce one major outcome, it will need to be escorted by at least patrol craft, and preferably corvettes. This is turn will build up fleet numbers, because you won’t be totally dependent on a “do it all nothing well” mothership/patrol ship hybrid which is LCS. The multimission combat vessel is what is destroying fleet numbers and its effectiveness, the fallacy that you can do more with less.

    My primary preference for the JHSV is the sealift role, which is what the Army is intending for their vessels. But I would caution against expecting this craft to go into the narrows with guns blazing, though these would be for self-defense. Your mothership should not be a battleship in the traditional sense.

  3. D. E. Reddick permalink
    February 10, 2010 10:41 pm


    A navalized JHSV should include at least one 57 mm gun and one RAM launcher, I presume – just for defensive purposes. Perhaps two or more 25 mm or 30 mm chain gun mounts would also be appropriate. Although, I think that a couple of 35 mm Millennium mounts might better serve as all-around defensive CIWS means of defending the vessel. Of course, four to eight Harpoon canister launchers and a few ESSM launch canisters (Mk 48 or Mk 56 VLS systems) might not be too much to ask for. Of course, I think that any vessel heading in harm’s way should be as well armed as is possible / feasible.

  4. leesea permalink
    February 10, 2010 10:28 pm

    DER you are exactly correct the JHSV specs are a compromise to make the vessel acceptable to ALL services i.e. joint. Now a navalized version could be done LATER for sure for more money. those modifications would I assume include full helo deck, full C4ISR, weapons suite, and built-in mission packages. That follows from Bob Work’s “box” concept, i.e. IF one has a good relatively big box platform, one can put whatever one likes in/on it LATER.

    Sorry moose a tender is not what I am thinking about. IMHO a mothership has to be a mobile (able to keep up with HSVs) forward (not inport friendly rear area) logistics (combo of POL, Provisions, Repair and spare helo, boat, UAV depot) ship. One of my favorites it the German Type 702 Berlin class. check it out. yes they are only armed naval auxiliaries but they haul!

  5. leesea permalink
    February 10, 2010 6:15 pm

    “HSV’s are tried and true motherships” Well only in minor respects. IMHO motherships need some more capabilities not in eithere HSVs of JHSV. The HSVs are versions of commercail ferries and NOT intended for station ship or mothership ops. They are simply point to point transports. WestPac Express is used for USMC administrative lifts.

    The JSHV is an improved WPE with more pax, C3 spaces, a better ramp, cargo gear, and a helo deck i.e. a tactical sealift ship. Their relatively good price was acheived by using a simple set of specs along with construction to ABS HSNC not NVR. JHSV is not a warship and will cost bucks to be re-designed. (BTW the orginial build cost of the WPE was $45 mil USD)

    It is a bit of a strech to have JHSVs support small ships since they have very limited POL tankage, no provisions storerooms, and NO M&R spaces. Can the JHSVs be modified as Bob Work is suggesting – sure. BUT in the real world that takes time and money. Time for redesign, money for change orders, time for changed production lines, etc.

    I think there is NO WAY a JHSV as is could be re-done to be a full blown warship frigate.

  6. D. E. Reddick permalink
    February 10, 2010 2:09 pm


    Sounds as though the Navy’s Flight II version of JHSV should have those flight support features re-introduced. Burkes’ aviation capabilities redux…

    I suppose this is the sort of problem that arrives with the design being ‘Joint’ in nature. Why would an Army transport need helo support while at sea, eh?

  7. Moose permalink
    February 10, 2010 1:47 pm

    If you’re going pure mothership as in a tender withno indigenous self defense ability, it’s tempting. Somewhat unfortunately the robust aviation support (including hanger) in the original design was stripped out and replaced with a parking spot.


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