The USMC Combat Development Command Discusses the Joint High Speed Vessel and Its Roles


2012-11-12 In late October 2012, Second Line of Defense sat down with Mr. Jim Strock, Director Seabasing Integration Division and members of his Connectors and Doctrine (C&D) Branch at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command MCCDC), Quantico, VA to discuss the expected role of the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) for the USN and USMC.  We did so a week after visiting the ship at the Austal shipyards where the ship is being built in Mobile, Alabama.

Along with Jim Strock, no stranger to SLD who has been interviewed before, other interlocutors for the discussion were John Campbell and David Groves.

John Campbell has been involved with the JHSV program in one form or other since 2005 and is currently the JHSV lead for the C&D Branch of the Division headed-up by David Groves.  The JHSV program has been and remains one of C&D Branch’s responsibilities, to work with the Army and Navy to capture the USMC’s capability requirements in the design and follow-through to realize them in the soon-to-be-delivered JHSV-1, SPEARHEAD.

SLD: Could you focus on the heritage of the USN and USMC prior to the JHSV and how that heritage has shaped the program?

Campbell: US government leased vessels provided domain experience from which the JHSV emerged.  High Speed Vessel (HSV)-X1, JOINT VENTURE was leased and used by the US Army and the Navy, to include support for Operation Iraqi Freedom.  We leased HSV-2, SWIFT and because she was still in the shipyard under construction, we were able to add a flight deck, along with stronger vehicle decks and a roll-on/roll-off vehicle ramp similar to those being built onto the JHSV.

The Marine Corps leased the WESTPAC EXPRESS (WPE), which helped build HSV operational experience as well.

Additionally, the U.S. Army leased their own vessel, known as Theater Support Vessel (TSV)-1X, SPEARHEAD, which also provided insight into HSV operational possibilities.

Strock: WESTPAC EXPRESS played an important role in the use and development of HSV capability. Colonel Michael Godfrey, who has since passed away, was the Assistant Chief of Staff, G4 at III Marine Expeditionary Force, and he leased this vessel around 2001 to move units off of Okinawa, Japan to Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines to support unit and bi-lateral training missions.

At that time, the only way that you could really get units off of Okinawa for such training was by using a small quantity of Air Mobility Command pre-positioned C-141 aircraft at Kadena Air Base, and if the Marines were lucky, perhaps get a sortie from an available C5 or C17 that just happened to be in-theater on another mission.

The WPE was a cheaper and more effective means of transport, especially considering the airlift support challenges III MEF was experiencing and had experienced for quite some time.  Using the more reliable WPE, a 3rd Marine Division infantry battalion could load its personnel and gear and be in Korea in about 30 hours.

Using AMC required multiple sorties of the pre-positioned C-141s and when breakdowns occurred, or an airframe was diverted for a higher priority mission, the MEF was left in a larch and in the worst of times it could take 10 days to complete the deployment.  With the JHSV, a unit commander would gain about a week on the frontend, and a week on the backend of training time.  This is a significant gain and at lower cost than airlift.

Colonel Godfrey went to PACCOM, which was able to leverage some of its sealift funds to enter into a leasing agreement with Austal in Australia.

The regional contracting officer in Okinawa went to Australia and leased the vessel.  Since then the lease has been extended, extended, extended.  Recently, the Navy purchased two prior-commercial high-speed ferries, WPE-like also built by Austal, from the Maritime Administration, one of which is being modified for military use, to augment the developing JHSV fleet.  Soon, the WPE will be returned to its owner when this vessel, which the Navy is calling a High-Speed Transport, arrives in Okinawa to take its place.  .

The Joint High Speed Vessel will make an important contribution to the USMC in its deployment operations. The JHSV is effectively a high-end pick up truck to carry troops and equipment from Point A to Point B. Credit Photo: Mobile Press Register

Campbell: When I was at NWDC, Navy Warfare Development Command, I worked as the HSV project officer. We worked mainly with SWIFT, but also oversaw experimentation on a smaller government owned catamaran, SEA FIGHTER, which had been built very quickly as an experimental vessel.  NWDC utilized both SWIFT and SEA FIGHTER, and before that JOINT VENTURE, to do experimentation in this area.  We did a lot of LOEs on the various vessels.

SLD: What is an LOE?

Campbell: Limited Objective Experiment, and some of it was done to support the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The platforms were used to support the development of the  JHSV program/requirements, and some of the experimentation that needed to be done for the LCS.

And NWDC was involved in the experimental piece, so we were looking at trying to use the SWIFT to support future development of JHSV and LCS.  When we had HSV-2, she started becoming more operational, and she actually went around the world.

SWIFT was deployed to EUCOM, CENTCOM and PACOM.  She was in high demand from the combatant commanders (CCDRs), who wanted to find out what they could do with HSVs.

SWIFT was deployed as part of the crisis response for Hurricane Katrina.  Although she didn’t have her own dedicated helicopter aboard, her main function was moving supplies to and within the area to support the humanitarian operation there.

SWIFT has such a sophisticated navigation system that, as it sailed up the river to New Orleans, she was able to help notify the USCG with regard to which Navigation aides were missing or had been relocated by Katrina.

SLD: These various operational experiences will have been carried forward as the JHSV becomes operational.  Could you discuss the operational capabilities of the new JHSV in moving forward to the fleet?

Strock: JHSV will have a 600-shore ton capacity.  It’ll travel 1,200 nautical miles unrefueled at 35 knots in Sea State 3 conditions.  It will have a CH-53 capable flight deck, and a 20,000 square foot mission bay that will allow a Marine seven-ton truck and trailer to do a horseshoe U-turn in and out of the mission bay.

JHSV will be delivered with a Sea State one capable ramp that will carry up to an M1A2 tank, and it will have 312 airline-like seats, and 104 berthing spots that can be shared to provide rest periods for embarked troops for up to a four-day transit.  It has decent shower facilities, decent messing and galley facilities.  It has only very, very limited self-defense.

It is effectively a high-end pick-up truck to carry troops and equipment from Point A to Point B.

However, each of the Combatant Commanders (CCDRs) will use it differently.

For littoral maneuver within the Pacific area of operations, when you’ve got Marines spotted in Australia, Guam, Okinawa, or Hawaii, vessels like this are perfectly suited for point-to-point transportation.

JHSV can accommodate a reinforced rifle company, however unlike an amphibious warfare ship, it cannot loiter very long.  The longer the loiter, the less troops that can be carried, for example 104 troops can be supported for only 14 days, vice the 312 for 4 days.  It certainly isn’t going to do amphibious assault, and it’s not going to do forcible entry, but in terms of theatre security cooperation, foreign internal defense, other training, and support for CCDRs in Phase 0 and Phase 1 operations, it’s perfectly suited.

So for the vast open oceans of PACOM, JHSV plays an important lift and movement role and can provide port delivery capabilities to support an amphibious operation.

For EURCOM one would think differently.  For example, use JHSV to marry troop transport with equipment support, that is perhaps align the movement of pre-positioned stocks in Europe with deployments of troops to support partnership operations in West Africa.

SLD: The JHSV is built on commercial systems and provides for a decent troop transit and equipment support function.

Strock: It does.  It has command systems less sophisticated than the LCS but has a mission planning area actually larger than the LCS. You could use it to support mission planning for COIN or other missions in support of the CCDRs.

Groves: Another aspect of how JHSV can support operations is its ability to operate in shallow water.  It has capability to operate drawing as little as 15 feet of draft.  This will allow us to operate in more austere or even damaged port conditions as well.

SLD: So the best way to understand this ship is in terms of its participation in the support function to USMC operations and to understand different ways that it complements the Military Sealift Command’s and the various USN-USMC seabasing capabilities?

Strock: Exactly.  There are a variety of other logistics-over-the-shore and seabasing-related platforms that we have to experiment with, test, demonstrate, and exercise in the future to achieve the overall capability inherent in the evolving seabasing approach.

For related stories on the JHSV see the following:

The video shows High Speed Vessel-2 or the Swift in transit through Suez Canal and arriving at Souda Bay.

Credit:Defense Media Activity – Navy