The program to develop the Expeditionary Fast Transport (T-EPF) Spearhead class (previously known as the Joint High Speed Vessel, or JHSV) is popular with the U.S. Congress due to the ships’ short construction time, relatively low cost, and high perceived value, as they can take on a wider range of roles than had previously been considered.
The use of these ships in the “presence” role – making visits to foreign ports and generally showing the flag – has been established. What was unexpected is how effective they are when conducting such missions. They look impressive and “modern,” and their large, uninterrupted cargo bays make them suitable venues for meetings, exhibitions, and other diplomatic activities.
In operational experience these ships have demonstrated an impressive range of activity for platforms that were originally seen as fulfilling a niche role in the U.S. Navy. T-EPF class ships are designed to transport 600 short tons of military cargo 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots. The ships can operate in shallow-draft ports and waterways, interfacing with roll-on/roll-off discharge facilities and on/off-loading the Abrams main battle tank (M1A2). The T-EPF includes a flight deck for helicopter operations and an off-load ramp that will allow vehicles to drive off the ship quickly. The shallow draft (less than 15 ft) of T-EPFs further enhances littoral operations and port access. This makes the T-EPF an extremely flexible asset for support of a wide range of operations, including maneuver and sustainment and relief operations in small or damaged ports. They can also provide flexible logistics support or serve as the key enabler for rapid transport. The order for additional ships of this type can be seen as a vote of confidence in their future development, which will bring the total of the class in the U.S. Navy to 16 vessels.
Another possible role for the T-EPF has emerged with proposals to install a significant surface warfare capability on the vessels, allowing them to substitute for surface combatants in low-intensity missions such as anti-piracy. Compared with a frigate or destroyer, the T-EPF is inexpensive to procure and run. It is remarkably quick to build and provides a useful mobilization capability. Its speed gives it operational flexibility, and its payload capacity means it can embark groups of Marines and sufficient amounts of military equipment while still carrying a worthwhile high-priority cargo. A modified T-EPF armed with a 35mm gun and perhaps short-range anti-ship missiles could provide exactly the kind of capability that was originally envisioned for the Littoral Combat Ships.
The virtues of high-speed catamaran troop transports are becoming more apparent as experience with this type of ship grows. Ships of this general category have already been sold to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and South Korea, and have served successfully in all three countries. Their speed serves a more important function than just increasing flexibility and reducing crew and passenger fatigue. Being able to maintain high speeds in rough waters makes such ships difficult targets for the kind of small craft favored by terrorists.
Forecast International’s Warships Forecast covers the key submarine, aircraft carrier, surface combatant, amphibious warfare, and underway replenishment programs that will dominate the warship industry over the next decade and beyond. It details the market impact of numerous key programs, including the Franco-Italian FREMM class frigate, the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier, and the SSN-774 Virginia class submarine. Each report contains a full design history of the ship, an extensive list of major contractors and subcomponent suppliers, and a wealth of information on the ship’s performance and operational capabilities. Click here to learn more.