Home » Foreign Forces » USNS Carson City Proves EPFs Can Conduct MCM Work, Handle Harsh North Atlantic Weather


USNS Carson City Proves EPFs Can Conduct MCM Work, Handle Harsh North Atlantic Weather

The Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Carson City (T-EPF 7), right, maneuvers alongside a Norwegian vessel during BALTOPS 2018. US Navy photo.

The Navy continues to expand its uses for the Expeditionary Fast Transport class of ships, as USNS Carson City (T-EPF-7) last month conducted the first high-latitude operations and the first mine countermeasures mission for the ship class.

Carson City joined in the multinational Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercise last month, deploying Remus-100 and Remus-600 unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) to conduct mine countermeasures work, and coordinating with other countries’ MCM boats through a command and control suite installed on the ship.

Cmdr. Steven Weydert, the Carson City military detachment officer in charge, told USNI News in a June 21 phone interview that it was encouraging “coming together to creatively figure out how to successfully complete the mission and to deal with the challenges that arose. … From my perspective, it just adds another … capability to the ship as we prepare for our next mission.”

The EPF ships are meant to provide high-speed personnel and equipment transport, with an eye towards humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, evacuations and other missions on the lower end of warfare. The U.S. Navy’s Logistics Group Western Pacific/Task Force 73 is considering using the platform as a command ship in the region – but the BALTOPS mission for EPF took that idea to a new level, providing command and control of a task unit conducting mine countermeasures, and even deploying MCM UUVs from the EPF.

Two Remus unmanned underwater vehicles are prepepared outside the Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport USNS Carson City (T-EPF 7) to be used for a countermine reconnaissance exercise during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018 June 2. US Navy photo.

Capt. Jonathan Keffer, the civilian master of the Military Sealift Command-operated Carson City, said in the same interview that the EPF is “a blank canvas: not only does it move equipment quickly from A to B, but also there’s spaces within the ship that can be utilized as an operations center, there’s other spaces that can be utilized – a large bay to move people maybe in a non-combatant evacuation operation kind of scenario. That same space could even be turned into some type of medical triage point.”

Keffer noted the ship requires additional gear and personnel to take on specialized mission sets, but he said the effort went well during BALTOPS.

“We think from a command and control and intelligence perspective that the ship has essentially a space that allows roughly 20 people to do an operations center, planning – really allow a commander to come onboard and do command and control from this space,” he said. That space was outfitted with a mobile communications package that allowed for secure and non-secure voice and data communications, and an Expeditionary MCM company was able to come onboard and leverage the vast space and the communications package onboard to direct a portion of the MCM exercise.

Lt Cmdr. Richard Vaughn, the deputy commander of the new Task Group 68.3 – which conducts mine countermeasures in U.S. 6th Fleet and falls under Commander of Task Force 68 – said in the interview that integrating the communication suite with the ship was not a simple plug-and-play effort. Successfully integrating the suite, packaged in a container and meant to be operated from a tent ashore, required “a pretty robust site survey and demonstration before we deployed the equipment to the ship months in advance of BALTOPs, to really test it all out. If we hadn’t done that it would be very challenging during BALTOPS to do it for the first time.”

He said the EPFs have a lot of space and potential for new missions, but “if they’re going to be used for things outside of a transport capacity, it’s going to take site surveys and potentially [modifications] or something like that when the ship’s in port, depending on who the customer is and what their desire is.”

Service members from the U.S., Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Germany participate in a pre-sail conference aboard the Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport USNS Carson City (T-EPF 7) during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018, June 2, 2018. US Navy photo.

Still, the ship proved successful in yet another mission for which the ship was not built but could be called upon to conduct in the future. The Navy has previously kicked around the idea of using the EPF to host unmanned platforms; to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); or to serve as an afloat command center, though none of the ideas have been formalized into any training or acquisition effort.

The BALTOPS exercise also proved that the EPF – an aluminum catamaran vessel with a somewhat limited safe operating envelop as a result – could operate in a new geographical environment. Earlier this year three EPFs were operating in the Pacific, and they have also done some work in Africa and Latin America. But, Keffer was eager to note, EPFs have never spent much time in cold and harsh environments like the North Atlantic. With a 2,000-mile voyage from its homeport of Rota, Spain, to Bornholm Island in Denmark, “Carson City has gone further north executing a mission than any of the other EPFs that are also expanding their exercise influence and operations around the world,” Keffer said.

“It was really exciting to be operating so far north, going to new ports – we went to I think two new ports and operated in the Baltic Sea, that no EPF has ever done yet,” he continued, noting that the ship stopped in Eckernförde, Germany, in addition to Bornholm.

Being an aluminum catamaran limits what ports the ship can go to, Keffer said, and the smaller safe operating envelop created some challenges – but he said the ship’s sprint speeds also helped compensate for those challenges.

The spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Carson City (T-EPF 7) participates in mine countermeasure exercises in the Baltic Sea during exercise Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2018. US Navy photo.

Keffer described “departing Rota and going over 2,000 miles, up through the English Channel, high traffic density, fog, restricted visibility, high winds, North Atlantic weather systems.” He said the the Fleet Weather Center in Norfolk helped provide an optimum track ship routing and was in constant contact with the ship to advise about any changes to the weather forecast.

“Getting up there was nice because it was beautiful spring weather in the Baltic. And then on the way home the Fleet Weather Center warned us about heavy weather in the middle of the North Atlantic that was going to be exceeding our safe operating envelop for high waves, which the hull form can’t handle very high waves,” Keffer said.
“Basically they advised us as we were coming south through the English Channel, again with more fog and challenges therein, but the ship did well. The officers operating the ship gained a tremendous amount of experience. The Fleet Weather Center advised us to hang back almost 12 hours behind our planned intended movement, so we slowed down to allow that weather system to sort of abate, and then the beauty of the ship was, as soon as we slowed down to hang back a bit, the weather began to improve, and we were able to throttle down and run at 24 knots to get to port on time. So with the limitations of the vessel, the capability of high speed made the whole voyage manageable with full consideration and respect for the wind and seas.”

  • johnbull

    Asking for information’s sake, not to be argumentative; why are these vessels as USNS rather than as USS if they are doing mine clearing which sure seems to be a combat operation. Thanks.

    • Because they’re unarmed transports. The Navy’s experimenting to see what they are capable off, but this sort of mission is far from what they spend most of their time doing.

      • johnbull

        Thanks for the explanation. Makes sense to me.

        • LuvtheNav

          The ship itself is not performing the mine clearing, the UUVs launched from it are – so the vessel actually stays farther out from the danger area.

          USNS ships perform a number of combat support roles (refuel, rearm, resupply, etc) close to the fight, but not in it. Their mission is not a “belligerent act” (read: offensive in nature) so under the rule of law they are not required to be a USS. If they were performing offensive missions (launching SEALs on rubber raiders instead of UUVs) then they would have to be commissioned ships.

          • Duane

            Yup. The MCM mission modules developed for another ship type are not platform specific. The Navy announced last year the intent to deploy the MCM MM, or at least subsets of it, on a variety of ship types including auxiliaries, amphibs, and even DDGs.

  • PolicyWonk

    Isn’t this absolutely fabulous?

    The above story clearly illustrates how these designed-for-the-littorals ships can carry an impressive payload, are highly adaptable, are useful in cold weather, are fast, efficient, have a large flight deck, and have been used in tests for all kinds of weapons because its so simple and fast to adapt.

    The perfect model and foundation to use for littoral combat ships, for less than $200M per sea-frame.

    The incremental value of the two existing LCS classes, over the EPF’s, is molecular given the price differential. This doesn’t count the obvious advantage of the EPF’s superior performance in cold water climates, which is glaringly lacking in both LCS classes. The folks who use ’em love em, and say the skies the limit w/r/t their capabilities.

    I’ll predict that these EPFs will continuously out-deliver, out-perform, and out-last both LCS classes because they have an enduring and elegant design. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were eventually turned into true LCS’s, at less than a quarter of the cost of the floating corporate welfare programs we’re currently stuck with.

    • DaSaint

      Agree to some extent. But if some are twisted over the lack of armament of the LCS classes, let’s be clear that the EPFs have zero armament currently.

      A SeaRAM or Phalanx CIWS facing aft and possibly one forward offset or 2 Mk38s forward may be a start. But that’s less than a LCS…

      As far as design is concerned, completely agree that catamarans are elegant designs, but this comes out of the same Austal USA yard. Same designers. And arguably, a trimaran may be more survivable than a catamaran. We won’t know until such time they’re both severely damaged, but they both are all-aluminum cousins of each other.

      • PolicyWonk

        If you look at the current cargo-carrying capacity of an EPF (600 tons), that implies there’s a good amount of room for adding weapons, even assuming you’re not modifying the sea-frame. I give Austal its due credit for the foundation of the EPF design as its both solid and proven, despite its commercial heritage, and as opposed to blaming them for turning in a less-than-great design for LCS, a lot of blame goes to PEO LCS (now USC), who even the USN says created “the program that broke naval acquisition”.

        The design of the EPF could be modified for specific military as opposed to transport purposes, adding both armament and protection, without sacrificing performance (a current problem for both classes of LCS).

        There was that incident where the former HSV Swift got hit by a Chinese anti-ship missile: the boat got hammered but didn’t sink (though I think she got scrapped in the end). The pictures of the damage were pretty impressive. Where there are some that point to this as proof the Independence class can take a punch, its value remains to be seen, especially given the staggering price in comparison (both classes of LCS cost about 5X that of an EPF). I believe the former Swift lacked any active anti-missile protection, which would normally be present on a truly militarized version.

        • DaSaint

          Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of aluminum high speed catamaran ferries. That said, I too am concerned about survivability in modern threat environments. I’m not so sure that any small (under 3000 ton) combatant can survive a direct hit or worse hits from modern anti-ship missiles.

          I would posit that it may be worthwhile to build another 12 EPF-variant vessels for a multitude of roles, such as intermediate hospital ships, Command, and maybe even as Tenders of some sort.

          It would be interesting to explore the possibilities of what does seem like a versatile and cost-effective platform.

          • Duane

            No ship can take a medium to heavy ASCM direct hit to the hull and not, as a minimum, get taken out of action, if not totaled, regardless of hull material. The USS Stark, an OHP with a steel hull, took two direct hits in the hull by lightweight Exocet ASCMs, with just a 180 pound warhead (1/3 the weight of a Harpoon warhead, just 2/3 the weight of a NSM, and 1/6 the weight of an LRASM warhead) … but only one of the two warheads detonated, and neither missile impacted near or at the waterline.

            The result from one lightweight warhead was 37 dead sailors, the ship knocked out of action and barely limped back to port. The repair bill was $142M – $2M more than the average cost to build a brand new OHP. Obviously the ship was totaled …. but the Navy did not want to admit that a third world ragtag Iranian aircraft destroyed a major US warship.

            That, again, was a steel hulled ship and the missile detonated in the steel hull.

            Just imagine the carnage created by a much larger warhead, such as a Chinese C802 “Silkworm” (600+ pound), or LRASM with a 1,000-lb warhead.

            There is no ASCM that will not easily pierce a steel hull or even an old belt armored cruiser of WW2 which is of course far more heavily armored than any existing naval warship in service today.

            The key to surviving ASCM attacks is not hull construction … the key is preventing the missiles from striking their targets. Once a ASCM hits any surface warship, game over, it is out of action for at least a year thereafter, and there will be dozens of dead sailors.

        • Secundius

          Between 20 to 30 Vehicles, depending on Mission Requirements. Aluminum Two-Piece Folding Stern Ramp is rated at ~100-tonnes. In 20 vehicle configuration at least on of them is an M1A1 Abrams. And Flight Deck will accommodate the weight of Fully-Fueled and Sling Loaded CH-53K…

        • Duane

          The EPF is not a warship and will not see any offensive weapons installed on it as long as it remains non commssioned. MCM is a defensive system, and it is not installed on the ship but is merely transported as a self contained mission module, in part or in whole of the generic MCM mission module.

        • airider

          With the Presidents push to 355, the Navy is looking at all options. The “E” class of ships were designed with the weight margin to try all sorts of stuff. Let’s see what happens.

          • Secundius

            Only problem being is that the US Navy barely has the Manpower Strength to Crew 308. The “New Draft Act” was Soundly Rejected in November 2017…

          • PolicyWonk

            Recruiting is and will remain a problem because birth rates are still in decline, and have been for decades. Then you have to account for the fact that 30%+ of those in the recruiting age range are not eligible due to obesity, criminal history, and lack of education. Then the remainder includes those who want to go to college or trade schools, or simply opt for civilian careers in preference to joining the military.

            It is doubtful that the problems in the VA and/or well publicized endless deployments are going to help.

            I think the draft will have to come back, and its only a matter of time.

          • Secundius

            As I said before the last “New Draft Act” was introduced to the US Congress in November 2017. It DIED a Quick Death, by both the US.Hse.of Rep. and the US Senate…

          • PolicyWonk

            Oh I’m well aware of the New Draft Act and its instant crash and burn. But if the US military cannot recruit sufficient volunteers, and they continue discharging immigrants, and refuse to enlist transgenders, etc., then where are the bodies/recruits coming from?

            The math isn’t going to work under current circumstances, and cooler heads will eventually prevail. The alternative is a smaller armed forces, when the nation supposedly wants to increase them.

          • Secundius

            The reason the “New Draft Act” Crashed and Burned, was because there was a provision in the act which didn’t allow for “Deferments”. Unless it was done at an Independent Hospital and that it could be Verified by a Third Party Physician NOT known by the one being Drafted. With less than 10% of the Members of the US Congress having actually Served, it was promptly KILLED…

          • PolicyWonk

            A sad state of affairs. But the next congress seems to have a lot of vets, so maybe that’ll change.

          • Secundius

            Then the US Congress better make sure that the New Draft Act passes both the US Hse.of Rep. and the US Senate with Super Majority Votes (2/3rd’s or Higher). To keep Donald Trump from Vetoing them…

      • That’s because most of the hatred for LCS is completely irrational and has reached the point of outright lunacy. I mean, I have had people on this blog serious argue with me that a 200 year old wooden sailing ship would destroy LCS in a fight.

        • Secundius

          Exactly what were these “Friends” Consuming when they made their astounding revelations? A 9-pdr. Long Gun had a range of ~3,500-yards. the 12-pdr Long Gun ~1,600-yards, the 18-pdr. Long Gun ~1,770-yards, the 24-pdr. Long Gun ~2,213-yards and the 32-pdr. Carronade ~1,930-yards…

          • jetcal1

            I believe there was a period around 4 or 5 years ago when the Navy deleted the original missiles and the planned 76 mm cannon and replaced it with the 57mm and no missiles.
            I was one of those wags in that interim time that openly wondered how well a 57mm, missile-less LCS would do against the C.S.S Virginia.

            A couple of folks from the porch dragged out some tables and considered the sloped armor of the Virginia.

            Laz was not happy 🙂

          • Secundius

            As I recall CSS Virginia used Iron Plating NOT Steel and was Limited to less than 10kts. Hardly an offensive weapon against a Ship nearly 5 times faster and still shot back at more then 3 times “Virginia’s” effective range…

          • jetcal1

            It was tongue in cheek, hence the use of the word “wag”. It was intended to tweak the tail of a rather ardent LCS supporter.

          • Secundius

            My Bad! I thought it was a Typo and overlooked the word…

          • jetcal1

            It’s all good.

        • NavySubNuke

          I don’t really see how it is irrational to hate seeing the Navy waste >$900M per hull (based on average mission module costs) on a ship that isn’t even intended to survive combat.
          Never mind the fact that the enginerooms are so complicated the Navy can’t even trust the crews to deploy them.
          Never mind that those enginerooms are chuck full of proprietary equipment the crew isn’t even allowed to perform preventative maintenance on never mind actually repair if it breaks.
          Never mind the fact that we selected two separate hull forms that are completely independent of one another and thus doubled the “tail” cost on a ship that already had nearly no teeth.
          If you are going to have a low-end combatant it needs to come in at a low end price.

        • PolicyWonk

          Irrational? How is it irrational to detest the wasting of $36B+ taxpayer dollars on something called the “Littoral Combat Ship”, that former CNO Adm. Greenert declared was “never intended to venture into the littorals to engage in combat”?

          Is it irrational to hate something that started with a completely practical purpose (a small, $92M per sea-frame, littoral warship intended to fight and prevail in the littorals), only to turn the concept into pair of “Franken-ship” designs that aren’t designed to fight, and cost 10X as much?

          It is irrational to hate a class of ships first launched/commissioned in 2008, that in 10 years has yet to perform even one presence mission?

          Now there are some on this site that consider it rational to waste taxpayer funds on a pair of “littoral combat ship” classes that leave this nation without a littoral combat platform after blowing $36B+. Admittedly, this is something I find difficult to comprehend.

      • NavySubNuke

        The difference is that an LCS, with mission module, costs over $900M (based on average mission module costs) and puts at risk a minimum of ~90 sailors at this point.
        These vessels cost <$200M and put at risk ~41 sailors.
        Had LCS actually delivered at that price of one of these you wouldn't hear nearly as much criticism because it would actually be a viable low end combatant.
        The issue is that LCS costs about 1/2 of the cost of a DDG yet delivers (at best) 1/10th of the capability.

        • Secundius

          But then again, any Naval Vessel Unused for anything is little more than a Paperweight or Presidential Yacht. And right now the “Gerald Ford” is the Largest, Heaviest and Most Expensive Presidential Yacht in US Naval History…

          • PolicyWonk

            Well, the Ford could be used as the largest and most expensive LHA in history, until they figure out how to fix the rather severe EMALS and AAG problems. She could also be used as an insanely expensive training ship.

            As she is today, she adds nothing to our CVN count, which is why the USN was publicly considering bringing a carrier back into service from the mothball fleet. Now, the discussion seems to be centering more on whether the Nimitz can have her life extended (a seemingly more likely/practical option).

          • NavySubNuke

            “she adds nothing to our CVN count, which is why the USN was publicly considering bringing a carrier back into service from the mothball fleet. ”
            Oh man – are you still peddling this lie?

          • Secundius

            What Aircraft Carriers are left to be Refurbished in the “Mothball Fleet”? Not including those used as Museum Ships…

          • PolicyWonk

            They were considering the Kitty Hawk, but that is more than likely impractical.

            I think it was briefly considered, because as the USN itself has said, the fixes to EMALS won’t be “fast, cheap, or easy”.

          • Secundius

            Last I heard, USS KH was sent to the Breakers in Bremerton in October 2017…

          • NavySubNuke

            Meh – Ford’s problems are engineering problems not science and technology problems.
            Once we get EMALs figured out she will be fine and will have a fine career.
            The trouble with LCS is even when we do work out the engineering and crew training issues (if we even can) you will still be left with a virtually unarmed death trap that cost 1/2 as much as a DDG and delivers (at best) 1/10th of the capability.

          • Secundius

            It’s a Little Premature to call the “Littoral’s” DEATH TRAPS when they haven’t even seen Combat Yet…

    • NavySubNuke

      The fact that one has even been able to make it all the way to the North Atlantic — something no LCS has yet to do — is huge.
      Never mind the fact that, in addition to costing <1/3 what an LCS does, they have a crew of only 41 and are built on a single hull design to simplify the logistics and training pipelines rather than needlessly doubling such "tail" expenses.
      And let's not forget that Carson City, 7th vessel of the class and delivered to the Navy in 2016, is already out doing such testing – as compared to the LCS delivered in 2015…..

      • PolicyWonk

        A brand-new EPF reportedly costs $180M, about 1/5th that of an LCS (just the sea-frame with basic/default mods).

  • John Locke

    “the hull form can’t handle very high waves”

    The bad guys don’t care.

  • Duane

    I see that the usual suspects are at it yet again, hijacking a thread about an EPF and using it to spout their ridiculous blather about a different ship type.

    The online world calls that “trolling”. It is.

    Stop hijacking the threads.

    The EPFs seem to provide a very useful modular space that can be converted to multiple roles provided the necessary integration planning is performed up front. Food for thought for mission planners.

    • NavySubNuke

      I realize us celebrating the fact that the EPFs are actually a success and can make it to sea and accomplish missions they weren’t designed for – unlike the failed LCS – makes you uncomfortable but that doesn’t make it trolling or hijacking.
      The fact that an EPFs can accomplish – at 1/4 the procurement cost, 1/2 the crew cost, and likely 1/4 or better the sustainment cost – one of the 3 primary missions of the LCS is a big deal and a great thing for the Navy since, unlike the LCS, these vessels can actually deploy.
      Overall, this is a great thing for the Navy and people who support the Navy.

      • Duane

        I never mentioned another ship type, out of respect for the subject of the post.

        You did the opposite, hijacking the thread to make your tiresome off topic trolling commentary, blah blah blah.

        You are a troll, in the classic online accepted definition of the term. Ditto with the other guy you echoed. And then as all trolls do when called out you lie and pretend you were doing something other than thread-hijacking for the purpose of propounding your trolling propaganda.

        You disrespect everyone here with your dishonesty … but like all trolls, you have no shame. It is what you do, it is your very nature to troll.

        • NavySubNuke

          It really is hilarious when you of all people accuse others of lying or of being a troll.
          I realize most of the inaccurate things you say are because you are an ignorant and foolish old man who has no idea what he is talking about — but then there are the times you are just another blatantly dishonest troll.

      • PolicyWonk

        Absolutely correct: EPF’s represent one of the relatively few procurement programs that has thoroughly and consistently exceeded expectations, at a very good price point, delivering major ROI to the taxpayers. An undeniable success, with tremendous future potential.

  • airider

    The obviousness of converting this class, like the ESB’s, to USS, and outfitting them for desired roles, like MCM, seems like a prudent move and straight forward process.

    I guess all the “save facers” that have had a stake in LCS, can now clear out with their careers intact since new buys are ending, thus allowing the Navy to move forward with better designs for the roles that are needed.

    Navy shipbuilding looks like this for the next decade based on what I’ve seen reported:

    CVN

    LHA
    LPD FLT II

    DDG-51 FLT III
    FFG
    SSN
    SSBN
    ESB
    EPF
    CLF

    The Large Surface Combatant is on the horizon, but still TBD. Overall, I think I can live with this plan, as long as FFG production continues beyond the current PoR to replace LCS, and the EPF and ESB are fully leveraged to their potential.

    • Duane

      Your never ending trolling on a ship type not the subject of this thread is an embarrassment for you, though you are of course oblivious of same.

      • airider

        Duane, the same can be said for you with all your fanboy trolling.

    • Ser Arthur Dayne

      I think you’re right– but it can also change on a dime depending on which way the wind blows etc.

      From what I gather, until a combination of Admiral Richardson became CNO and President Trump became President, there was not even a plan for a future cruiser. The idea was the platform was no longer in the future of the US Navy, and that the re-capitalization of the DDG-51 program and transition into FLT III would eventually take the role of AW platform in the CSG…. However, now Adm Richardson speaks of getting a future cruiser done “eventually”, but basically admits it won’t be a new ship — basically saying they’ll use a current hull [almost assuredly a tossup between the LPD-17 hull and the DDG-1000 hull) and create an AW Command platform and call it the next “cruiser.”

      Similarly, the LCS was the future of the Navy. Then out of nowhere, in what, 2014? They finally admitted they needed to address the serious shortcomings of the LCS and the associated shortcomings those shortcomings are causing/will cause in the fleet now and in the future… so we get a LCS Frigate SSC plan… and then 6-12 months later, we need a real FFG, and suddenly the plan shifts to creating an entirely new platform called the FFG(X) etc.

      So where I’m going with this is, you have the shipbuilding priorities right, no doubt… but with the way our nation and government is… we could get a political leadership or even naval leadership in that suddenly decides, no more CVNs, we need CVLs and the priority goes to small carriers… that’s just an example. Anyway, I like most of our ships, I think we need more and we need to get back to the bigger, badder, fully-equipped “Battle Groups” rather than having a lot of less-protected, less-equipped formations on paper.

      • airider

        Good points. My view of the world is that we’re making needed course corrections that were politically non-starters for the past decade+.

        Getting to a fleet that has the flexibility, capability, and sustainability to support our Nations will throughout the globe is sorely needed.

  • Kypros

    Seems the Navy likes it’s EPFs and is finding new uses for them and is able to deploy them. Hmmm, too bad all ships can’t do that.