Navy's Evolutionary Catamaran Tested Off Africa

Thursday, January 08, 2004

By Edward Baxter, MSC Europe Public Affairs

Low intensity conflict, littoral warfare, special forces that can be whisked ashore at a moment's notice-all familiar terms to describe just how the military must transform to fight the ongoing global war on terrorism, and the battles of the 21st century.

For this very reason, the Navy's Military Sealift Command, or MSC, chartered two high-speed vessels-HSV Swift and HSV Westpac Express-sleek, stealthy, high-speed catamarans with a multitude of mission capabilities to meet today's security challenges, including: mine warfare, maritime interdiction, littoral warfare, humanitarian assistance, as well as the ability to quickly deploy troops to a combat zone.

MV Swift recently wrapped up her first deployment, scouring the western coast of Africa during West African Training Cruise, or WATC, 2004-training with the militaries of South Africa, Cameroon, Ghana, the Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Morocco, Nov. 3-Dec. 2.

In addition to crew orientation, the exercise was an opportunity to test the ship's multi-faceted capabilities, to include riverine operations, helicopter deck landing trials, and amphibious raids. Assigned to MSC's Special Mission program, MSC contracted the 300-ft. Swift from Bollinger/Incat USA Wave Piercing Catamaran, a consortium of both U.S. and Australian firms, as an interim Mine Warfare Command support ship. But, the Navy and Marines are looking into many different ways the ship can be used in modern warfare. Delivered to the U.S. Navy in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, in August, Swift can carry up to 350 fully equipped troops, has a top speed of over 35 knots, and is capable of loading and unloading a multitude of military vehicles, including M1-A1 main battle tanks. Swift can also launch and recover small craft with an onboard crane, and has a helicopter landing deck capable of landing giant CH-46 "Sea Knight" helicopters.

"When the Navy, Marine Corps, or other Department of Defense agencies have a mission that requires ship chartering, they come to MSC," said Vice Adm. David Brewer, III, USN, Commander, Military Sealift Command, referring to MSC's unique knowledge of commercial maritime vessels. MSC frequently contracts vessels to move dry cargo and fuel, worldwide. The one-year contract is valued at just over $20 million, but includes options, which, if exercised, has a potential value of over $53 million.

MV Westpac Express was chartered early last year by MSC and is currently serving with the U.S. Marines in Okinawa.

Throughout the exercise, the ship's crew put the high-speed vessel through a variety of tests. Off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, pilots from that country's Air Force practiced landings on the ship's deck with Oryx medium transport helicopters. In Cameroon, Swift responded to a simulated distress call from members of the Cameroon Naval Infantry, dispatching a team of small boats assigned to Small Craft Company, Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, pulling Cameroon's special forces from the water, and returning them to the ship.

Immediately thereafter, both U.S. Marines and Cameroon naval infantrymen boarded U.S. Marine Corps rigid raider craft and combat receiver reconnaissance craft, and headed to the shore to simulate an amphibious assault. Cameroon's navy thanked the ship for its support by hosting a reception in the port city of Doula on Nov. 15.

Marines aboard even experimented with a lightweight water purification system. First held in 1978, the purpose of WATC is to foster a spirit of cooperation between naval forces of the U.S. and participating West African nations. After Casablanca, Morocco-the final stop in the month-long exercise-Swift made the long trip back to Little Creek, Va.

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