Marines: Catamarans Catch On


October 10, 2016: The U.S. Navy recently ordered two more Spearhead class EPFs (high speed catamaran transports) for $130 million each. Until 2015 EPFs were known as JHSV (Joint High Speed Vessels) type ships. The U.S. Navy would like to eventually have 22 Spearhead EPFs. The Spearhead class are twin hulled catamaran that displace 1,500 tons and can carry 545 tons of cargo or vehicles in a 1,900 square meter (20,000 square foot) cargo bay. Cargo gets on and off via a ramp that can handle up to 100 tons at a time. Thus tanks can be loaded and transport. In addition 312 passengers (troops or civilians) can be carried on another deck in airline type seats. These passengers can be carried for four days. There are also berths for 104 passengers, who can be carried for up to 14 days. Top speed is 80 kilometers an hour and range is up to 2,200 kilometers on internal fuel. The minimum crew size is 26 but up to 45 are needed for some types of missions. There is a helicopter pad that can handle heavy (up to 30 ton) helicopters. There is also storage space for a smaller (12 ton UH-60 class) helicopter.

The U.S. Navy ordered ten Spearhead class EPFs in 2008 (for $160 million each) and received the first one in 2013 and the rest will arrive by 2017. One advantage of these ships is that they based on successful and heavily used commercial designs, thus the price per ship actually went down. This commercial success is what led the U.S. Navy to being using leased commercial versions in 2001 for use in the Pacific. The U.S. Army also tested the design and after 2003 these tests extended to the Persian Gulf.

American allies in the Persian Gulf noted this and this led the UAE (United Arab Emirates) to lease one of the U.S. Navy HSV 2s. It arrived in July 2015, just in time to quickly move troops and vehicles from the UAE to Yemen to help the government there deal with an Iran-backed rebellion by Shia tribes. HSV 2 continued carrying supplies and passengers off Yemen until October 1st 2016 when, as it was approaching the Yemeni Red Sea port of Mocha, it was hit by an Iranian anti-ship missile. The damage was severe mainly because of fire but the HSV 2 did not sink and was towed to a port for further examination.

The HSV 2 had, until 2013, been leased by the U.S. Navy to develop new sea transport concepts for the EPF class transports. Noting this Oman, a neighbor of the UAE ordered two similar HSSV transports. These are optimized for the calmer waters of the Persian Gulf and the shorter distances over which the Omani Navy will be operating it, compared to what the U.S. Navy required for the Western Pacific. Oman has a long coastline (over 2,000 kilometers) and most Omanis live near the coast. So the HSSV is an effective way to get troops, relief supplies or whatever around. HSSV is a 72 meter (234 feet) long ship that can carry 320 tons of cargo and up to 250 passengers. Top speed is 63 kilometers an hour and the vessel is operated by a crew of 69. Oman had already been using two (65 meter) civilian versions of this vessel as commercial ferries and the navy was impressed with their performance.




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