JHSV–The LCS We Have Waited For?
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.
But the Navy would insist the new JHSV is not a warship and they are mostly right. Listen to this recent report from Al.com 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!