USNS Spearhead, the first of the Navy's joint high-speed vessels designed for rapid intra-theater transport of troops and military equipment, was christened Sept. 17 during a ceremony at Austal USA in Mobile, Ala.
Military Sealift Command will own and operate Spearhead and the other joint high-speed vessels, or JHSVs, that are under contract to be built for the Navy. Spearhead will be crewed by 22 civil service mariners working for MSC who will operate, navigate and maintain the ship.
"USNS Spearhead and her MSC crew will be indispensable as they perform critical logistics and fleet support missions around the world," said Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, commander, Military Sealift Command, during his address at to an audience of more than 1,200 people including leaders from the military services, Congress and maritime industry. Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was the ceremony's principal speaker.
Retired Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kenneth Wahlman is the ship's sponsor. His daughter Catherine, a staff sergeant in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps at Virginia Tech University, broke the traditional bottle of champagne across the bow to formally christen the ship.
The 338-foot-long aluminum catamarans are designed to be fast, flexible and maneuverable, even in shallow waters, making them ideal for transporting troops and equipment quickly within a theater of operations.
"Flexibility may the best attribute of this ship," said civilian Capt. Douglas D. Casavant, Jr., Spearhead's civil service master who has been sailing for MSC for 22 years. "Our 20,000-square-foot mission bay area can be reconfigured to quickly adapt to whatever mission we are tasked with, for instance carrying containerized portable hospitals to support disaster relief or transporting tanks and troops."
The JHSVs are capable of transporting 600 short tons of military troops, vehicles, supplies and equipment 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots and can operate in shallow-draft, austere ports and waterways, providing U.S. forces added mobility and flexibility. The JHSVs' aviation flight decks can support day and night flight operations. Each JHSV also has sleeping accommodations for up to 146 personnel and airline-style seating for up to 312.
One of the things Casavant is most looking forward to in his role as master of the first JHSV is working to define how these new ships will be used.
"It's going to be very interesting working with the fleet commanders to develop the ship and see how we can best support all of the services," said Casavant. "This is going to change the way a lot of people think about moving equipment and personnel."
Following acceptance trials, delivery to the Navy and operational testing, Spearhead will be based in Little Creek, Va., and is expected to begin conducting missions for the Navy in the first quarter of fiscal year 2013.
The Navy honored the ship's original U.S. Army-chosen name and sponsor after the decision earlier this year to transfer five JHSVs originally slated to be owned and operated by the Army to the Navy.
The Navy's current contract with Austal is for the construction of 10 JHSVs, three of which are yet-to-be awarded construction options.
As MSC assets, all of the JHSVs will be civilian-crewed. The first four of the 10 currently under contract - including Spearhead - will be crewed by federally employed civil service mariners, while the next six are slated to be crewed by civilian mariners working for private companies under contract to MSC. Military mission personnel will embark as required by the mission sponsors.