The Austal-built WestPac Express has been re-chartered by the U.S. Navy for a further period of up to 55 months (commencing on the expiry of thecurrent charter in February 2007) in which it will continue to support the operations of the US Marine Corps’ Third Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) in the Western Pacific theatre.
Originally described as a Theatre Support Vessel (TSV), WestPac Express is now more commonly referred to as a High Speed Connector (HSC), and was first chartered to the III MEF in July 2001 for a proof of concept period. This was the first time the US military had contracted a commercial vessel of this type for military support. This charter was so successful that, after competitive tenders, the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) signed a three year charter in January 2002 which was subsequently extended to February 2007. In 2005, MSC again sought competitive tenders for a new charter
of up to 55 months and, after strong international competition from other high speed vessel designs, WestPac Express once more proved to offer the best value, commercially and technically.
Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) Program Update
Also in May the Pentagon approved development of a new, high-speed ship (JHSV) that will use technology from the commercial ferry industry.
The vessels will be about 320 feet long, able to carry about 175 troops between islands or on other short-range missions. The Navy wants $554 million for the program over the next five years, and the Army also will seek funding. The White House's most recent budget request includes about $57 million in research funding, among other related budget items. Current plans call for buying three ships in 2009, two vessels in 2010, and two more in 2011. Three of those ships are destined for the Navy; the first ship should be available for deployment by 2011, the Navy said. The Navy and the Army will work together on the program, which was approved last month by chief weapons buyer Ken Krieg. That decision was announced May 5. The Navy will lead the purchasing process.