"Joint Venture" Craft Cruises to the Future
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2002 Military transformation took a nautical turn Oct. 19 when an all-soldier crew piloted an Army-leased experimental high-speed watercraft up the Potomac River here.
All aboard was shipshape as the 300-plus-foot HSV-X1, dubbed "Joint Venture," raised anchor at Fort Belvoir, Va., and headed north on a 90-minute demonstration cruise to the Metropolitan Police Harbor Patrol Headquarters' dock here.
The Australian-built, shallow-draft, catamaran-hulled ferry is modified for military use. It is part of Army plans to transform itself into a faster, more flexible component of DoD's future force, noted Maj. Gen. Robert Dail, commander of the Army Transportation Center at Fort Eustis, Va.
The Navy and Coast Guard are also looking at Joint Venture. The Army leased the vessel in October, but will soon relinquish it to the Navy, he continued. In November, the Army will take delivery of another prototype that includes Army-suggested improvements like a deck-mounted loading crane.
The experimental ship can carry almost 400 troops and crew at speeds of up to 40 knots. It can also transport 30 to 40 Stryker fighting vehicles 600 or more miles, or Black Hawk helicopters, or a wide range of other equipment, Dail said. It would replace a number of slower, similarly sized watercraft in current use. The Army wants to start fielding vessels like the Joint Venture around fiscal 2006.
The flat-bottomed transport vessels the Army has used for 50 years to support ground combat operations travel at 9 to 10 knots, Dail pointed out, noting that the Joint Venture's 40-knot speed is an important calling card for tomorrow's military.
"We're trying to get to the next level where we can be faster, where we can move equipment and the people and the leaders together, and reposition forces a lot faster," the two-star general explained.
Dail noted the Army can quickly leverage Joint Venture's commercial, off-the-shelf technology and capabilities to more economically acquire theater support vessels for its future force. Past acquisition processes, he added, took much longer and resulted in extremely expensive, custom- made military equipment.
"We're saving a lot of the developmental costs that you would experience in the old days," Dail explained. "We're looking at technologies out there that are just proving to be profitable. Without a lot of work and heavy investment, we pull them in and try to make some application for the Army."
According to Brig. Gen. John Gardner, the Army's deputy commanding general for transformation, Joint Venture's hull design provides speed and flexibility and enables access into shallow harbors and rivers. Such a capability, including use of the Black Hawks, he pointed out, would allow sudden, rapid troop movements into areas unguarded by the enemy.
For example, as part of Millennium Challenge 2002 exercises held early in August, Gardner noted, Joint Venture carried 14 Stryker infantry vehicles, troops, and other equipment more than 1,300 nautical miles from Port Hueneme, Calif., to Tacoma, Wash. The exercise was the largest joint experiment in U.S. history. In September, he added, the vessel left Fort Eustis and crossed the Atlantic in five days to participate in joint military exercises in Germany and Poland.
The capability provided by high-speed vessels, coupled with Air Force tactical airlift and Navy sea transport capabilities, Gardner noted, fits nicely into present and future joint operations doctrine.
The Navy's interest in the experimental vessel "has more of a Special Forces, countermine focus," noted Col. Genaro Dellarocco, an Army force projection specialist. "We have more of a logistics focus."
The Army, for instance, plans to use its second, slightly larger leased experimental vessel to move two Stryker companies, including fuel, ammunition, troops, and command- and-control element, the colonel noted. More than 100 lessons learned will be applied to this vessel, he said, including 30 percent more deck space.
Sweeping the water ahead with binoculars from his perch on the bridge as the Joint Venture moved upriver, Army engineering officer Warrant Officer Anthony Bartelli noted the vessel is impressive and much different from what the Army currently has.
The vessel, he noted, boasts high-tech equipment that all but runs the engine room and other operational systems. This helps limit the crew size to 31, he said, and further improvements may reduce that to 25 or less.
"The more we put this into the hands of the warfighters, the more that we'll learn," he said.
The fielded version of the experimental vessel should cost $85-$100 million a copy, Army Lt. Col. Ken Shreves estimated. The Army headquarters operations staff member, along for the ride, noted that the Army considers Joint Venture and its follow-ons to be complements of other services' tactical transport capabilities, not competitors.
The planners' thought is the use of Army and other services' high-speed vessels on future battlefields will stretch the enemy's forces, Dellarocco remarked.
"He can't cover all of the bases. He can't cover all of the airfields or ports. That gives the operational commander a lot of leverage," he continued. "This is literally going to change the way the Army fights at the operational level of warfare and this will be a catalyst for joint operations." Dellarocco noted the vessels can work with the Marines as well as the Navy.