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Navy Wants 2 Variants Next Common Auxiliary Hull: One for People, One for Volume

The Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Greenville (SSN 772) prepares to moor alongside the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS 39), Dec. 9, 2018, near Puerto Princessa, Philippines. Emory S. Land is a forward-deployed expeditionary submarine tender on an extended deployment conducting coordinated tended moorings and afloat maintenance in the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet areas of operations. US Navy photo.

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Navy now plans to design and field two hulls under the Common Hull Auxiliary Multi-Mission Platform (CHAMP) program, after the program office realized the five mission areas CHAMP seeks to cover fit neatly into people-centric and volume-centric categories.

The Navy last year began work to find a common design as a replacement for several auxiliary ships that are rapidly approaching the ends of their service life – a hospital ship, a command and control ship, a submarine tender, and aviation logistics ship and sealift ships.

After early feedback from industry, the program office realized they were headed towards two different hull designs, which should still yield significant savings over pursuing each replacement program separately, Capt. Scot Searles, Strategic and Theater Sealift program manager within the Program Executive Office for Ships, said today at the Surface Navy Association’s annual national symposium.

“We’re trying to recapitalize these five mission areas, and we want to try to do it in the most economical, most affordable way possible. So what does that mean? That means trying to leverage the propulsion plants, the hull designs – not paying for five different sets of [non-recurring engineering] for five different ships, so trying to find a common propulsion plant, a common hull as much as we can,” Searles said.
“We started out thinking it was going to be one hull; we got some initial feedback from our industry study and our [requests for information], and what we found in our own examination as well as in our industry feedback is that these five mission areas fall into two basic categories: one is a very volume-intensive category, where you need a large volume inside the ship – that’s the sealift mission, where we’re trying to carry a lot of Marine and Army cargo. The other pocket it falls into is a people-intensive mission; when you talk about a hospital ship or a submarine tender, you’re talking about a lot of people. So the people-intensive ships didn’t need as much internal volume, so we actually found those could be a smaller ship, but needed to have more berthing capability.”

As the Strategic and Theater Sealift program office looks for options to meet these needs, it also has two ships with hot production lines that have been repeatedly extended by the Navy: the Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) made by Austal USA in Alabama and the Expeditionary Seabase (ESB) made by General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego.

Both Austal and NASSCO – as well as EPF and ESB operators – have noted the vast space that both ships designs have and the flexibility to use that space for many missions, including as a medical facility. The EPF is already built with some medical spaces, but a massive passenger bay inside the ship and nearby the medical space could be outfitted with more patient beds, more operating rooms, and so on. The ESB has a wide-open mission bay that is used for small boat operations today, but leaders aboard that ship told USNI News previously that the space could easily be used as a hospital. USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3) has already experimented with hosting an Expeditionary Resuscitative Surgical System (ERSS) team that provided a Role II medical facility from a tent on the flight deck with no modifications to the ship at all.

A landing craft air cushion approaches the expeditionary transfer dock ship USNS John Glenn during exercise Pacific Horizon 2017, July 19, 2017. Pacific Horizon 2017 is a Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) exercise designed to train I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and components of Naval Beach Group 1 (NBG-1) Marines and Sailors on arrival and assembly operations for a crisis response, humanitarian assistance or amassing combat power ashore from sea. US Marine Corps photo.

Searles told USNI News during his presentation at the SNA conference that the industry studies are meant to generate these kinds of ideas and that, with cost being so important to the CHAMP program, hot production lines and mature technologies could be leveraged.

“When we look at EPF, ESB, as well as the other platforms that are out there, what we’re seeking from industry: tell us. That is the whole point of the industry study, is to tell us the most affordable way to recapitalize these ships. When we look at the sealift portfolio and the relative priority of sealift ships among carriers, submarines, combatants, auxiliaries, small boats – where does sealift fall in? Obviously we’re in the auxiliary category, and so when the Navy the Nation Needs and the buildup to the 350-ship navy – as we look at that, where do we fall in the relative priority, we have to be economical,” Searles said.
“We have to be able to get all of the capability we need at the best price possible, because once you get that far down the food chain, every penny counts. So we’re seeking from industry to tell us, what are the hot production lines, what are the things we can do to leverage commercial designs for these auxiliary ships.”

The captain said the auxiliary ships don’t have to meet military specifications – in fact, the ESB is derived from a commercial oil tanker and has mostly commercial-standard systems – which should help keep costs down. The flight deck would have to meet military specifications, and medical spaces would have to meet U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) standards, but “the propulsion plants can be completely commercial. So we need to leverage that kind of thing, hot production lines, existing commercial technologies, all those things that make ships affordable. That’s what we’re looking for to try to capitalize on with the industry studies.”

The EPF production line in Mobile is still churning out ships. The Navy previously planned to buy 10 hulls, but lawmakers have continued to give the sea service money for more. The Navy now has the funds for its 13th and 14th ships and is negotiating those contracts with Austal.

On the ESB line, the Navy previously took a commercial oil tanker design and created an Expeditionary Transfer Dock (ESD) that allows prepositioning ships to offload goods onto the ship at sea, personnel unpack the large shipping containers, and then surface connectors onload goods to bring ashore. After the Navy bought two of these ESDs, the service added a flight deck across the top of the design and created the ESB – for which Congress has already appropriated funds for the fourth and fifth and for which the Navy is negotiating with NASSCO.

The Military Sealift Command maritime prepositioning ship USNS Sgt. William R. Button (T-AK-3012) is moored off the coast of Latvia for the Saber Strike 17 Maritime Prepositioning Force offload operations on May, 25, 2017. US Navy photo.

The program office released a request for proposals for its industry studies on Jan. 8, and responses are due Feb. 15.

When the Navy eventually accepts delivery of these new CHAMP ships, the first ones will tackle the sealift mission, followed by the submarine tender mission, based on fleet feedback and ship retirement schedules. These auxiliary ships will be used in the fleet via the Maritime Prepositioning Force. Current MFP ships, many of which are about halfway through their service life, will go into reduced operating status and be held in the Military Sealift Command surge fleet. And the hulls in the surge fleet today, which are quite old and many of which use steam propulsion plants, will be retired.

To bolster the surge force until the CHAMP hulls begin delivering, the Navy will also do some service-life extension work on the hulls and buy used auxiliary ships as needed, Searles said.

  • DaSaint

    EPF variants could easily be Hospital Ships and Command Ships, but can’t see them as Submarine Tenders. Wouldn’t want to imagine the damage that could be caused to the aluminum hulls by the submarine pulling alongside. Also, they have a lot of volume, but not a lot of capacity in terms of weight. The ESB would be more likely, but that looks too large to be a tender.

    ESB as basis for a MPF ship makes some sense.

    As far as Submarine Tenders are concerned, I’d think that a San Antonio class-variant, with the same propulsion configuration, and additional cranes may make sense. Faster than an ESB, with sufficient volume and accommodation.

    • USNVO

      EPF can’t really be command ships, they have nowhere near enough volume, power, communications, aviation support, etc. Being used for command and control of EOD forces (which is basically a laptop computer running MEDAL and a satellite link) is one thing, being a fleet flagship is a whole different level of pain.

      • DaSaint

        I hear you.
        I think that a modification of the San Antonio class would be a better fit – if the need to accommodate over 1200 command staff is required.

        • USNVO

          A LPD variant without a well deck would be fine if they want a flagship that actually sails with the fleet. If you want something more akin to the current command ships, that aren’t really meant to sail with the battle force, then an ESB sized auxiliary makes more sense. Lots of space, plenty of room for aviation assets, plenty of room for communications gear, cheap to operate, plenty of room to grow. Shoot, with a double hulled construction, you even have something that resembles spaced armor!

          • leesea

            The dirty little secret is the Marines want to spend about $50 million per big deck to upgrade their medical capabillty, And NOT buy a hospital ship !
            ESB is not an auxiliary in the CLF sense just and ugly tanker mod

          • USNVO

            ESB isn’t meant to be an auxiliary in the CLF sense nor are any of the other types of ships mentioned. And who cares if they are ugly if they efficiently meet the requirements. It is not like the current hospital ships, command ships, sub tenders, aviation support ships, or sealift ships are designed for looks.

          • leesea

            Naval auxiliaries come in many types. the Looks comment goes to how poorly the ESB is configured for alongside boat ops. Which BTW cant be under flight path during air ops.

          • USNVO

            Yes they do, and the further you get from working directly with the fleet, like the T-AOs, the more you start looking like converted merchant ships as opposed to purpose built ships. We’re any of the auxillaries in question supposed to operate with the fleet?

            As for the ESB, it is actually at least as good if not better than the USS INCHON, the last MCM support ship. At least you can moor an MCM alongside without smacking the mast into anything on the flight deck. Any ship designed to support aviation operations has restrictions (the same one applied to the Inchon by the way) on ships alongside, not seeing the issue.

          • old guy

            LCACs and their follow-on do not need inefficient, wasteful well decks. They can come aboard, be loaded and discharged , in a continuous flow, without the slow, cumbrsome well deck.if the ships were so designed,

    • leesea

      Dreams. The EPF cant fulfill the command ship rqmts because it is too small. The EPF cannot be a T-AH because it is too small and unsteady.
      Why would anyone start with a Billion Dollar Plus hull to build a cargo ship? the model for a new MPS ship already exists in the legacy hulls which the Navy is still using like the Bobo class

  • oaking

    Rather than 2 hulls design 2 cargo modules (similar to airplane use) one fitted out for people.

    • TomD

      We have different sized aircraft hulls, right? We don’t fly 737s on 747 missions or vice versa, right?

  • Desplanes

    It’s great that this critical need is finally being addressed. Hopefully the Navy can start buying these hulls in adequate quantities fast enough.

  • Ed L

    How about a dozen EPF’s as repair ships I.E. tenders for The LCS’s, Destroyers, the new FFGX Get a few self-propelled Drydocks in various lengths 400 feet long, 600.

    • PolicyWonk

      EPF’s have been proven highly successful, and the crews love ’em (they’re also downright cheap at $180M each, and almost as fast as an LCS for less than 1/4 the price tag).

      While they’re really versatile and can carry a lot of cargo for its size, the amount of men and materials necessary to act as a tender seems to be out of its range for larger size ships. I can see an EPF sea-frame being used as a tender for a fleet of Mark VI patrol boats, or as a hospital given the amount of space they have. But getting into maintenance of larger ships seems a tall order, unless the definition and jobs a “tender” is assigned are also changing.

      • Secundius

        There’s also the “Ambassador III” Missile Patrol Boats at ~600-tons, with an endurance of ~8-days and a range of ~2,000nmi at 15kts. Unfortunately the US Senate won’t allow the US Navy to buy any…

      • Duane

        Comparing EPFs to LCS is like comparing bicycles to high performance sports cars, or to tanks. Yes, bikes cost a lot less than do Ferraris and M1A2 Abrams tanks … but they don’t do the same job.

        SMH

        • leesea

          In point of fact, the then JHSV was compared to the LCS early on. The NAVSEA website had a page up for a while then it went away. There was a fast cat offered in as LCS, the Navy rejected it.
          There are some missions which the T-EPF could be modified to do. Like MIW.

          • Duane

            Yeah .. and like I wrote, Ferraris have wheels just like bicycles do .. but the resemblance ends there. It is all that other stuff that makes them entirely different, just like EPFs are entirely different from LCS.

        • leesea

          I like to stick with truck analogies (they are suffer some). The JHSV nee T-EPF is a delivery van like UPS uses, big box volume, put almost anything inside, not that fast. The LCS is like fire engine, it goes fast, has lots of systems on it, has a small crew, and can be seen and heard a long way off.

      • leesea

        T-EPF are good fast transports – PERIOD. Crews hate them because they always require repairs and are VERY thin hulled.
        A fast cat is NOT a basis for a tender in any way shape or form.
        Tender is an antiquated ship type

        • PolicyWonk

          Your comment flies in the face of more than one feature article published on this very site that clearly documented the exact opposite, declaring that the crews love them, and say there is nothing they can’t do (adding that “the possibilities are endless”).

          The USN enthusiastically agrees with the crews, because they’ve been using them as test-beds for new weapons and MCM, among other applications, because they are so easy to modify and have 600t of room for growth (unlike either class of LCS).

          W/r/t to the tender comment, I disagree with that assertion.

          • Duane

            So you choose to believe the Navy and the actual ship crews when it comes to EPF, but then you (not only) completely discount the very same extremely positive views of LCS by the Navy and by the crews who sail them, but you refer frequently refer to the decision makers who ordered the LCS as criminals deserving of prison sentences.

            Your hypocrisy is endless .. but entirely typical of propagandists and internet trolls.

      • Ed L

        Sounds like a beginning. Hopefully they can find some funds to build mobile support ships (what we use to call AR’s) for the LCS’s and surface.

    • Secundius

      Largest Heavy Lift Ship is M/V “Dockwise Vanguard”! Measures ~275-meters by ~70-meters and is capable of Lifting ~117,000-tonnes. Unfortunately it won’t lift a Aircraft Carrier, because the Flight Deck of Aircraft Carrier will get in the way of the Four Outrigger Islands that function as Operations Island, Berthing Island and Machinery Island(s)…

      ( https : // gcaptain . com / megamachines-dockwise-vanguard-largest-heavy-lift-ship/ )

      • Ed L

        Talking drydocks not lift ships. Similar to these from WW2 Types of Floating Drydocks

        The war program of floating drydocks included a wide variety of types to meet the varying service requirements for which they were designed. The principal categories were as follows:
        ABSD — Advance Base Sectional Dock.
        Mobile, military, steel dock, either (a) of ten sections of 10,000 tons lifting capacity each, or (b) of seven sections of 8,000 tons lifting capacity, for battleships, carriers, cruisers, and large auxiliaries.
        ARD — Auxiliary Repair Dock.
        Mobile, military, steel unit dock, ship-form hull, with a normal lifting capacity of 3,500 tons, for destroyers, submarines, and small auxiliaries.
        ARDC — Auxiliary Repair Dock, Concrete.
        Mobile, military concrete trough type, unit dock with faired bow and stern, 2,800 tons lifting capacity.
        AFD — Auxiliary Floating Dock.
        Mobile, military, steel trough type, unit dock, with faired bow and stern, of 1,000 tons lifting capacity.
        AFDL — Auxiliary Floating Dock, Lengthened.
        Mobile, steel trough type, unit dock, similar to AFD’s, but lengthened and enlarged to provide 1,900 tons lifting capacity.
        YFD — Yard Floating Dock.
        This category included a wide variety of types, designed generally for yard or harbor use, with services supplied from shore. Among the principal types were 400-ton concrete trough docks; 1,000-ton, 3,000-ton and 5,000-ton one-piece timber trough docks; sectional timber docks ranging from 7,000 to 20,000 tons lifting capacity; and three-piece self-docking steel sectional docks of 14,000 to 18,000 tons lifting capacity.

        • Secundius

          Correct me if I’m wrong, but even a Heavy Lift Ship is a Sea Going Self Propelled Dry Dock. It’s just the differences in what’s it’s called.

          For example the RusNavy Ship “Admiral Kuznetsov” class Heavy-Aircraft Carrying Missile Cruiser. To circumvent the “Montreux Convention” of 1936, to Slip into the Black Sea. Because the Montreux Convention doesn’t allow Aircraft Carriers into the Black Sea. Unfortunately the Montreux Convention doesn’t allow ANY Ships including Cruisers with Fixed Wing Aircraft Aboard into the Black Sea either. What’s in a Name (i.e. Classification)…

          • Ed L

            Please report your findings to those who have never worked in a dry dock. Since I have worked in drydocks on Carriers, Amphibious vessels, Frigates. your heavy lift vessel transports ships

          • Secundius

            The same can be said about the ESB’s, their not Amphibious Assault Ships or the EPF, their not Command Ships either. Regardless on how much Communications Gear you Stuff inside them…

          • leesea

            The ESG/ESB should have been built to sealift ship standards but that plan went away after the Navy redesigned them into “auxiliaries”
            Since they started life on paper as tankers, it would be expensive to, redesign them again, install many decks and bulkheads to become people carrying ships like T-AS/T-AH/LCC

          • leesea

            from a nav arch POV, semi-submersible ships are different from floating non-self-propelled drydocks. Some of the latest Dockwise nee Boskalis ships even have specialized hullforms

  • thebard3

    Well, the ‘common hull’ concept didn’t get off to a very good start, after identifying the need for 2 different hulls.

    • Horn

      On the contrary, I believe they avoided a costly mistake. The F-35 is proof that you shouldn’t try to force one design to work for all missions types. That’s why the study was commissioned. The program has identified common design needs which necessitates two hulls. It’s amazing how economical you can be when you don’t have the budget like the rest of the military.

      • Duane

        Actually the F-35 is proof that three variants serving different needs still results in the world’s finest fighter at an economical cost.

    • USNVO

      Not really. What they seem to be talking about is more akin to the ESD/ESB which is based on the Alaska Class Tankers. Although they are significantly different in terms of crew size, arrangement, and length, they use the same basic hull design as well as engineering spaces, just with varying degrees of parallel mid-body. For example, the COMFORT and MERCY are converted oil tankers as well (but built on a predecessor of the Alaska class). As the article noted, you could do the same thing with the next auxiliary. A larger Ro/Ro and Container version designed for the prepositioning/Sealift mission, another version more akin to an ESB for Aviation Support (to replace the WRIGHT and CURTISS) and Hospital ships, a shorter version with less aviation and lots of volume for the tender mission and command and control, etc. They were never going to be able to use one hull for everything, but with parallel mid-body, you can keep the really expensive stuff the same and just change the length to accommodate your needs.

      • leesea

        What the ninny navy is trying to say is that they need Cargo ships and Passengers ships. Cargo type will be the future CLF ships, and passengers ship will be the future command and hospital ships. The current CLF has two problems: there are not enough hulls, and the hulls are too big/costly. A medium sized ship is needed to be a mothership for LCS, and other small combatants.

        The problem with the simplistic POV is the Navy need a totally different hospital ship (not even a white hull). The T-AH19 were converted to Passenger ship construction rules so prior service as a tanker is irrevalent.

        ConRos do make good multi-product ships for sealift which is part of what the Navy’s needs.
        Update IVO latest news, it would seem the T-AS/LCC/T-AH are being considered for a common hull by CHAMP?

    • leesea

      now three hulls so the common hull Dreams of systems acquisition folks already seems to be falling apart?

  • Also a surface ship tender. The LCS’s need one to follow them everywhere. We have a fleet that can not come and stay like the US NAvy in WW2. Floating dry docks for battleships, repair and tenders for surface craft and bases that were just lagoons. Now a trail of contractors are required to keep some ships operating, LCS’s case in point. Just PPL od p___ poor leadership. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

  • old guy

    OK Now fols imagine this. A ship, looking somewhat liike an aircraft carrier, with fore and aft ramps to allow amphibious landing craft (e.g. LCAC) to come aboard, load and depart, in a contiuous flow, without being dragged into a Water hole taking up 1/3 of the hull, and pushed out, when loaded. Exciting, WOT? It was designed in 1976, rejected by Navy because it didn’t have a wet deck to service “Mike” boats. Another example of myopic views.

  • leesea

    BTW the Navy apparently has formed Three RETs for CHAMP. One being for T-AS/LCC/T-AH I am guessing

  • Rob C.

    I really never felt good about putting vital command staff on a freighter. I rather have some tax money go to a ship meant to at least have self-defense system in.