Home » Budget Industry » Expeditionary Fast Transport USNS Burlington Completes Builders Trials

Expeditionary Fast Transport USNS Burlington Completes Builders Trials

USNS Burlington (T-EPF-10) roll-out on Feb. 28, 2018, at the Austal USA yard in Mobile, Ala. Austal photo.

The Navy’s next expeditionary fast transport vessel, the future USNS Burlington (EPF-10), completed builders trials at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala., and in the Gulf of Mexico.

During the week of trials, Austal tested ship systems such as fire protection equipment, according to a Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) news release. Burlington spent two days underway, testing communications and navigational systems, ship propulsion and maneuverability. Burlington conducted a series of high-speed turns to demonstrate its stability and agility, according to the release.

Burlington performed very well and is well on the way towards her delivery as the next Expeditionary Fast Transport vessel to the Navy,” Capt. Scot Searles, the Strategic and Theater Sealift program manager within the Program Executive Office for Ships, said in the statement. “The testing results achieved this week are a testament to the combined efforts of industry and Navy.”

This recent contractor testing comes after Burlington was christened in late February and launched on March 1.

The next step for Burlington will be acceptance trials, scheduled to begin later this month, where the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) will inspect the ship and certify Burlington as being ready for delivery to the Navy.

USNS Burlington (T-EPF-10) launch on March 1, 2018. Austal USA photo.

For Austal, Burlington’s progress means the shipbuilder is nearing the end of building the EPF in the U.S. The final two fast transports contracted, the future USNS Puerto Rico (T-EPF-11) and USNS Newport (T-EPF-12), are under construction as part of a $431-million contract. Total orders for the class are worth roughly $2.7 billion, according to the company’s financial statements.

Austal expects to deliver to the Navy the last fast transport in 2020, unless a potential EPF-13 is awarded. Currently, funding for a 13th is being considered by congressional appropriators, Michelle Bowden, an Austal spokeswoman, told USNI News.

However, Austal’s Australian-based shipyard is using the EPF design as the basis for what calls a High Speed Support Vessel, currently being built for the Royal Navy of Oman. Austal is creating this class of ship for export markets, according to Austal’s financial reports.

The Navy has been experimenting with expanding uses for the EPF. Last month, during the multinational Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) exercise, USNS Carson City (T-EPF-7) conducted high-latitude operations and mine countermeasures missions – both firsts for the class. The Navy has also considered using the EPF as an afloat command center or to host unmanned platforms for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

  • PolicyWonk

    Given the performance of the Carson City, and other EPFs, we can likely expect great things from the Burlington and her sisters. These versatile sea-frames are a real acquisition success story, and their adaptability/versatility is a testament to an elegant design.

    The USN should consider additional variants: a strengthened/armored/armed one for littoral combat purposes (the LCS’s we currently have cost 5X as much, and aren’t as versatile); a missile-carrying/arsenal variant; a mother ship/tender variant servicing Mark VI patrol boats; and maybe a multi-chopper-carrying one for SoF support.

    • USNVO

      Well, it is amazing how little ships cost when they don’t have any military communications gear (well these do have INMARSAT), no radars outside a commercial surface radar, no weapons, minimal endurance, and severely restricted range and sea keeping ability. They are good inter-theater transports, that is enough.

      • Duane

        He is just bloviating for the purpose of hijacking yet another thread to use as a platform for trolling LCS.

        He was likely assigned responsibility for the LCS topic by his masters in a foreign power.

        USNI could publish a post on the Girl Scouts selling cookies at a US Navy base, and he would then comment about how that illustrates how terrible is the LCS.

      • PolicyWonk

        For a vessel designed for littoral operations, 1200nm at 35 knots (sea state 3) isn’t bad. Given the room for growth these EPFs have, its fuel capacity could be expanded without difficulty. They are so versatile, easy to modify, and have so much room for growth, they’ve been enthusiastically called a “blank slate”. In addition to adding more fuel: weapons, armor, and protective systems could also be added, with room to spare. The end result is that they are being considered for a large variety of roles, including operational command centers, floating medical centers, ISR, and as a mothership for UAVs.

        The Carson City just completed a 2000-mile transit from Spain to Denmark, while other ships of her type are operating in Africa, the Pacific, and Central America. That she can do the MCM mission at 1/4 the cost is huge, and that she and other vessels of her fundamental type are operating well in cold climates, is an added bonus.

        Contrast this to both classes of LCS that: aren’t currently operating independently anywhere (warm or cold); cost 4X as much; the first one commissioned 10 years ago, and hasn’t even one lowly presence mission to its credit. And as opposed to being called a “blank slate”, they’ve been far more often referred to as a “blankety-blank”, among many other less than flattering metaphors. Note also the USN itself determined that adding more tasks to the LCS’s list wasn’t a good idea, and instead opted to reduce them via inception of the FFG(X) program.

        This isn’t to say LCS might not someday prove useful. As a taxpayer, I’d like to think the USN didn’t just take $36B and blow it at the racetrack. But to be fair, both LCS classes were scorched by the USN’s own IG (let alone DOT&E, OMB, etc), and the program itself has earned the dubious distinction from the USN of being “the program that broke naval acquisition”.

        The EPF is not a blue water platform, nor was it pretending to be. And I’ll give you LCS certainly has a range advantage, assuming their propulsion systems doesn’t break down. LCS also comes better equipped, but given the price differential there ought to be *something* it can do better. The Freedom’s have such a shallow draft, that bad weather would make for a very unpleasant ride. However, if they do manage to get the reliability problems resolved at least they’ll be able to do a reasonable transit. That said, even if they do, they won’t likely prove as versatile as the EPFs.

        It almost makes me feel kinda sorry for the Grand Admiral of the Fleet, who is dejected that the USN has a monstrously successful littoral platform that isn’t his beloved, most-bestest, awe-inspiring, enemy-terrifying, most powerful, BAR NONE, all-mighty LCS. So now he feels he has to troll others who are happy the USN has a real acquisition success story that happens to be a littoral platform.

    • DaSaint

      One quick modification I would make to the entire class is the creation of an enclosed hangar for at least 1 H-60 class airframes or UAVs. It appears that there is an open space for parking one helicopter. If further variants were authorized, I’d recommend an even wider hangar, considering the favorable beam of these catamarans.

      • Duane

        But that would change the nature, roles, and command (to a commissioned warship) of the EPF vessels. It is a fast transport, not a warship.

        We already have plenty of warships that deploy helos, including all DDG 51 Flight II and later, all LCS, all flat tops, and soon to be all frigates.

        There seems to be a pretty consistent thread of thought amongst internet commenters that every ship ought to do everything, and thereby become jacks of all trades. That mindset muddles the fleet composition. There is in fact good reason to field single purpose ships, as long as the hull designs can be adapted at reasonable cost and timeframes to other roles.

        Attempting to turn every platform into multi role platforms ends up driving the cost per platform to unaffordsble heights. We saw that in the debates over the new frigate, where one faction lobbied (and still does) for a large 6,000+ ton hull with full AEGIS and SPY-6 radar, and 60+ VLS cells. Well, you can do all that, but then you end up with a $1.5B baby Burke destroyer (not a frigate) that still cannot do what a Burke does, and it is not affordable. The Navy needs the frigate to be small, and less capable in air defenses, in order to come in at the desired $800-M price point. Which is where a frigate needs to be.

        • DaSaint

          I think your answer was directed more to PolicyWonk. I think it prudent to have a hangar on any surface craft that has as sizable landing deck as the EPF. What if emergency repairs needs to be done by the flight crew during inclement weather?

          From a design standpoint, they already have 3 sides of a hangar, so it’s not that difficult to add at least a roof. Doesn’t even have to be aluminum or load bearing. There are options that could be used to provide a modicum of protection, and who knows, maybe they already have a retractable canvas cover. All they are missing then would be a roll-up door.

          Anyway, creating a dedicated hangar has many benefits, and should not run up significant costs relative to the cost of this class.

          • Duane

            Adding a hangar costs a significant amount of dollars for design and construction and the hangar itself would occupy a LOT of space that is unavailable for transport of soldiers, gear, and the heavy equipment that the EPF is actually tasked with carrying. The EPF was never tasked or envisioned with deploying aircraft.

            Every ship design is a necessary compromise between competing features and capabilities. Tacking on a new capability as you suggest with a hangar on thr EPF necessarily giving up competing capabilities and features. If the competing capabilities and features that must be reduced or eliminated to satisfy your suggestion represent the very essential reason for being of the EPF, then such a mod would not make sense.

            Erego, none of the EPF hulls feature hangars. That is the bottom line.

            Again, the tendency of internet commenters, and unfortunately even some folks in NAVSEA, is to treat every platform as if it were a Christmas tree on which to hang as many pretty ornements as can be strung. The “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-all (???)” design requirements mentality is what leads to too many, too expensive warships that end up not being master of all trades after all … and too few ships period.

            A great example is the Virginia class SSN. It is truly a fine SSN, but it has been greatly enlarged in size (8,000+ tons) and larded up with too many roles (i.e., its primary role of ASW, plus land attack, SuW via missiles involving large numbers of vertical tubes SOF insertion modules, etc.) such that today it is a $3+B sub that we cannot afford to build in the numbers needed to mount an effective SSN ASW capability headed towards only 41 boats in a decade. The Navy should have instead stuck to smaller cheaper SSNs costing just $1.8-2.0B each and a much larger fleet. Surface warships and aircraft are much more cost effective guided missile platforms than submarines. Sure, we need the SSBNs and they are even much more expensive than Virginia boats, but they are are special purpose leg of the strategic triad.

            In the meantime, the Chinese are rapidly increasing their sub fleet while we are reducing our sub fleet.

            It is best to specialize vessel types, and thus make each vessel type a master of its own trade. We’ll be able to afford a much larger fleet, and at the same time a more effective, more capable, and more cost effective fleet

          • DaSaint

            Duane, I’m skipping most of the long narrative response of yours to get to the point: the EPFs already have a dedicated helicopter stowage area. It was designed with it so that an aircraft can be stored off the flight deck.

            What I am saying is that it could have been covered and have a roll-up door. Neither is a significant addition in cost, relative to the cost of the vessel itself.

            That’s it. Simple point. It has 3 sides already. It could have a roof. And a door. To protect from the elements.

            That’s it.

            Not talking about making it a battle cruiser with wings. Or an aircraft carrier.

            A roof. And a door. The structural ability is there. Really.

          • SDW

            If the EPF needs to have a helicopter assigned or needs to support helicopters on other ships (or a shore) then it can best accomplish that with a hangar. An extendible (pull-out) hangar would do the job adequately, in most cases.

            about a hanger taking up space that something else needs… I chuckle when ever I see a house advertised as having a “two-car garage”. Get real. How many of these garages have you seen being used overnight to house two cars? Even one car in the garage is the exception in most neighborhoods. It’s the same for a two-helicopter hangar like on a DDG. On-board a ship leaving on a WESTPAC I’ve seen all sorts of (mostly) Navy-issue spares, parts, and mission-related “stuff”. I’ve also seen a BBQ and almost a pallet-load of charcoal. If you build it…they will fill it.

      • PolicyWonk

        For the basic EPF class I’m not so sure. However, for a more specialized variant you could chop off a lot of superstructure and replace it with hanger space, and the weight would likely be close to a wash. Add some tanks for AV-gas, and a magazine, etc., and you’d have a mini-LHA.

        Certainly, there are lots of interesting possibilities, and I think we’re just scratching the surface.

      • Secundius

        The “EPF” has a Parking Level of ~2,000-sq/ft., for between 20 to 30 vehicles depending on Mission Requirements. Including an M1A1 Abrams MBT. New Joint Missile Requirement, that replaces the AGM-114L “Longbow Hellfire” with the AGM-114(X) JAGM with Multi-Seeker Head and Multiple Launch Platform Applications. Missile has range in excess of 28km. IF “EPF” itself isn’t armed with them, I’m fairly curtain that One or More of the 20 to 30 Vehicle on the Parking Level “IS”…

        • DaSaint

          The mission deck or vehicle deck as you call it is actually almost 20,000 sq. ft.

          But I don’t get your point. The vehicle deck is below and only has access to the ramp at rear. How does that armament and positioning help the EPF? Explain.

          • Secundius

            Vehicle Deck also has Direct Access to Flight Deck and Forward Supply Deck. For CH-53E/K or MV-22 Weapons and Cargo Transfers. Flight Deck is rated to support the weight of a Fully-Loaded/Fueled CH-53K, not including Sling Cargo…

          • DaSaint

            So as long as there is no helo on deck…they can move up there and take aim?

          • Secundius

            Or even from the Forward Cargo Deck. EPF was designed to support a Small Battalion of 300-Marines for up to 72-hours of Combat. Until an MEU (i.e. the Calvary) arrives…

          • DaSaint

            I guess in a pinch. Hope that never happens. Would much rather outfit the class with at least a Phalanx CIWS and a VL Hellfire module.

          • Secundius

            If a “HiMAR” can be used on a Landing Platform Dock, I guess the same could also work on the EPF’s…

          • DaSaint

            Yes. That’s true.