This post has been updated with additional information on the Bethesda-class (EMS-1).
The Navy’s new class of expeditionary medical ships will be named after a Maryland military medical center, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro announced Friday.
The future USNS Bethesda (EMS-1) will be the first in the class for the new line of expeditionary medical ships.
Bethesda is named after Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home to naval and military medical facilities including the Walter Reed National Military Hospital.
“The name ‘Bethesda’ is connected to the world-class medical center for healing that has served a countless number of service members since 1942,” Del Toro said in a statement. “This ship will honor the medical staff, who compassionately dedicate their time and expertise to take care of our service members. Bearing the name Bethesda will continue the legacy of life-saving and medical innovation.”
The new expeditionary medical ships are part of Navy medicine’s transformation as it looks to the future of combat. Navy medicine put out its first campaign order in 2023, USNI News previously reported.
The focus of the campaign order is adjusting for future combat, likely in the western Pacific, which will require Navy medicine to provide care over vast differences. The past 20 years had been focused on more land-based care in countries like Afghanistan, where distances between combat and care centers were much closer.
The expeditionary medical ships are designed for distributed maritime operations, according to the Navy release.
The new Bethesda-class will be based on the Spearhead-class (T-EPF-1) aluminum shallow draft highspeed transports built by Mobile, Ala., shipbuilder. Bethesda was formerly designated EPF-17.
The Bethesdas will provide hospital-level care, with three operating rooms, as well as a laboratory. Providers aboard the ship will be able to offer critical care, radiological capabilities, primary care, dental care, mental health services and obstetrics/gynecological care.
The ships are also built to take on multiple casualties, with the ability to stabilize patients on board.
The ship is also meant to be fast, traveling at up to 30 knots and the ability to maintain speeds of 18 knots for more than 5,000 nautical miles, making the ship quicker than the current hospital ships USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) or USNS Mercy (T-AH-19).
“This first-in-class ship will be state-of-the-art and the Navy’s first medical ship in 35 years,” Del Toro said in a Mental Health Month video. “This ship, designed with more expeditious and direct access to diagnostic, specialty and hospital care, will allow for increased capabilities and health care. Just as the hospital at NSA Bethesda has served as a beacon of hope to those who entered its doorways, USNS Bethesda (EMS-1) will serve as a beacon to those in need around the world.”
Navy medicine christened another type of expeditionary ship in February. USNS Cody (EPF-14) is the first Spearhead-class EPF Flight II. Like Bethesda, Cody will be able to sail in shallow waters. It will also be able to provide limited intensive care in addition to other medical facilities.