Tuesday, February 19, 2013


The Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) is beginning to join the fleet and ComNavOps is beginning to wonder what these vessels will be used for.  The stated purpose is intratheater high speed transport of troops and vehicles.  Does this make sense? 

First, let’s take a quick look at the few specs that are available.

Class Size = 10 ships
Speed = 35 kts – 45 kts
Range = 1200 nm
Troop Capacity = 300 seated airline style or 100 in berths
Weight Capacity = 600 tons
Crew = 22 civilian mariners
Cost = $250M each, $2.5B program
Aviation = flight deck for a single medium helo, no hangar

So, back to our question.  How will this vessel be used and does it make sense?  Clearly, this is a non-combat vessel, built to commercial standards, and crewed by civilians.  Thus, the JHSV is not an amphibious assault vessel of any kind.  That leaves peacetime transport.  Do we have a pressing need for high speed transport of a relatively small number of troops during peacetime operations?  I’d be hard pressed to come up with a scenario where that was required. 

JHSV - What Purpose?

I suppose we could also consider its use in a wartime scenario where it operated far in the rear of the naval front lines and acted as a shuttle.  Again, though, is there a pressing need to quickly move 100 – 300 troops far in the rear of a battle zone?

I can see a use for the JHSV as a humanitarian aid vessel but that’s not really a Navy mission.  OK, actually it is an official mission but it shouldn’t be.  I’ll make that a topic for another day.

In short, I don’t see the pressing need for this ship.  Help me out, readers.  What demonstrated need does this vessel fill?


  1. I think the lane-meters are more important than the troop numbers. Troops can fly in. It's harder to move equipment, especially if there is no deep water port nearby.

    I can see situations where we move MPS vessels to a theater deep water port, and then shuttle equipment via JHSVs to the final port of debarkation, which may be an austere, shallow-water port.

    Or MPS vessels could offload via an MLP to JHSVs.

    1. Umm, OK. Given the totally non-combat nature of the vessels, the final point of debarkation would still have to well outside the range of any potential combat. I guess there could be such a situation but it strikes me as unlikely. Plus, 600 tons is a pretty small load. So, again, I'm back to wondering whether the ability to shuttle small loads well in the rear of a conflict is worth the $2.5B program, especially in this time of severe budget constraints.

      If the vessels were minimally combat capable I could see them being used to transport small combat forces around the Chinese outer islands in a conflict but that seems not to be the intended use.

      JHSV seems like a nice capability to have if all your other shipbuilding priorities have been met but that's nowhere near the case. It seems like it's been designed for a fairly unlikely scenario.

    2. 600 tonnes is a relatively small load, but at 40+kts, it can shuttle loads faster than a traditional cargo vessel.

      It's a shame they cost $250 million each. IIRC, the parent hulls are much cheaper.

    3. It can only shuttle loads faster if it's one-time and one-way. If you measure the shuttle capacity as tons delivered per day (or whatever time period), the cargo ship beats the JHSV by a huge margin once it arrives. The only advantage of the JHSV is that it gets a small amount of material to its destination quicker. Once you start figuring in the time for round trips, the "speed" of the JHSV drops dramatically. For example, a one-way trip can be made at 35 kts, let's say, but the round trip to pick up a second load drops the average speed to 17 kts which is the same as a cargo ship. Yes, the cargo ship will take longer to get there but it will drop a buttload of cargo when it does. Work the delivery math and you'll see that the JHSV is incredibly inefficient. To repeat, its only value is for the one-way, one-time scenario and the need for that just seems highly unlikely.

      I seriously do not see the niche that this vessel is designed for!

    4. Thats not counting the times it would be down for maintanence and refueling.

    5. @BSmitty your are right in the MPS scenario. The MPS do NOT need an MLP to offload their cargo. They have INLS RRDF onboard and JHSV can put their ramps down on that.

      OTHER sealift ships and amphibs need the MLP. JHSV can marry to the MLP in a very weird looking arrangement

  2. A JHSV can get in many places an LMSR can't.

    1. Again, only places that are far in the rear of combat zones. Are there really places far in the rear that we want to very quickly get material to that don't have a fairly nearby port? - see my next reply about the map - Seems unlikely.

      The JHSV as a raiding or SOF platform would be intriguing but that's clearly not an intended role.

    2. Are JHSVs any more vulnerable than LCUs or LCACs?

    3. @BSmitty the answer of course is JHSVs are no more or less vunrable than other landing ships. And I would submit can have better self defense systems installed (not yet there).
      @CNO I think you will see the JHSV supporting raids (Marine or Navy) as well as NSW as soon as the lawyers allow it.

    4. @CNO you are assuming that offload ports are by definition in the rear of a "combat zone"
      IMHO the roles will morph once the ships are in operation/deployed.

    5. leesea, you are correct that I'm assuming the JHSV will only operate in the rear area. That's due to the lack of any self-defense capabiity, construction to commercial standards rather than naval survivability standards, and the civilian manning. If the Navy ever opts to change those then, yes, the JHSV might operate forward. For now, though, it's strictly a rear area and non-combat zone platform.

    6. @CNO assuming non-combatant ships will *only* operate in the rear areas goes against US naval history for the last couple of hundred yrs. Do you seriously believe the Service Force of WW2 operate only in the rear areas? Where those ships *well* armed or even always protected by warship? NO as the JHSV will be also.
      BTW there are four mounts for self-defense guns which can be modified up to perhaps Mk38s? And plenty of topside space for other weapons.
      When there is 600 short tons of payload capacity, there is ROOM for more than one sees *right now*. You should look at #2 and follow-ons.
      As to construction stds, they are similar to LCS and certainly more rugged than you imply.
      The JHSV are inter-theater transports and those theaters will be far forward unlike you assume. We already know one will be in Indian Ocean and one in WestPac linked to MPF support. And the first will be in Fourth Fleet AO. I predict the other 6 or more will go to Med, PG, and each coast.

    7. leesea, as reported at naval-technology.com and many other sources, the JHSV is built to American Bureau of Shipping commercial standards and does not meet any of the Navy's defined survivability standards. The vessel is built of aluminum which has been shown to be a combat hazard. If you have other information that shows the vessel to be more rugged than I think, I'd be very interested in seeing it. Please let me know your source(s).

      By law, the JHSV cannot operate in combat zones. That could certainly change but at the moment it is legally not allowed.

  3. Found this Small Port Accessibility Study a while back.


    1. Thanks for the link. I confess, though, that I didn't get much out of it. The most useful info was the map showing that, in the studied areas (Africa and China being notable omissions), accessible ports are everywhere which leads me right back to what is the JHSV going to do?

    2. What do you mean by "accessible ports are everywhere"? Less than 33% had berthing capable of handling an LMSR.

      If ports in Africa were included, that percentage would go down significantly.

      JHSV is meant to open up access to these ports. Whether it is the right option is debatable, but the number of deep water ports capable of handling our large MPS ships is much lower than I would like.

      If we want 70% accessibility, we need ships that are 600ft (L) x 100ft (B) x 25ft (D) or less. For 80% accessibility, that goes down to around 550ft x 90ft x 20ft.

      IMHO, we do need smaller cargo ships. But do they need to be high speed catamarans? I don't know. A while back I threw together a proposed alternative using a RoPax ferry as a starting point,


      It is similar in concept to the HMNZS Canterbury, but meant to fit in the "80% accessibility" parameters defined above.

      There are obviously other options. The British Point-class Ro/Ros fit roughly in the "70% accessibility" zone.

      Even the Royal Schelde Enforcer LPDs (e.g. HNLMS Rotterdam) have 80% accessibility.

    3. Here is an older (1992) study of port accessibility in sub-Saharan Africa and SWA.

      "The overall result is that contingency forces ashore in the following nations cannot be supported logistically by sea through an improved port:
      Guinea - Bissau
      Equatorial Guinea
      Cabinda (Angola)

      Compounding this situation is the fact that 15 (33%) of the accessible ports can accommodate less than one half of the classes of ships. Included in this list of 15 ports is the only (or all) port(s) for:

      A more detailed look shows that the APS, MPS, and FSS are all but excluded from access (8% class access) to these additional six nations. Further, with respect to the APS, MPS, and FSS in general, there are only 8 (18%) ports in the sub-Saharan region that allow 100% class access. These "all class" ports are confined to only Liberia, Gabon, Angola, and South Africa."

    4. Oops. Here's the study,


  4. I have wondered about the purpose of the JHSV too.

    Here is what the Navy Fact File says about it. Looks like its for evacuations, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. So the US military is buying it as part of its “meals on wheels” program. Though with big cuts coming in the defense part of their job I would think they would cut the meals on wheels part first since its not defense.

    """""The JHSV will enable the rapid projection, agile maneuver, and sustainment of modular, tailored forces in response to a wide range of military and civilian contingencies such as Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief.""""

    It also talks about how it can carry combat loaded Abrams tanks but since this as you point out is not a combat ship and not set up for going to combat areas it does not say why they would need to carry combat loaded M-1 tanks.

    """'The ship is capable of operating in shallow-draft ports and waterways, interfacing with roll-on/roll-off discharge facilities, and on/off-loading a combat-loaded Abrams Main Battle Tank (M1A2).""""


    I suspect that they bought it because it has both "Joint" and "High Speed" in the name and those are both "transformal" words which the Pentagon loves

    1. Sealift ships carry M1s too, and they are even more vulnerable than the JHSV.

    2. But they are promoting the JHSV as carrying combat loaded M-1’s not just transporting M-1’s. Combat loaded is fueled and ammo and crew, so where are they going that is dangerous enough to need a M-1 but not too dangerous since this is an unarmed civilian manned ship. Or even carrying M-1’s not combat loaded, where is the mission that needs these ships to travel so fast if not into combat? The same with carrying supplies or troops, if not for combat whey the need for such speed?

      As to building ships for meals on wheels missions, it is not something I think the US military should be doing.

    3. LCACs and LCUs are unarmed too and somehow they manage. ;)

      JHSVs aren't meant for use as amphibious assault ships. Forces carried aren't supposed to roll off and start fighting immediately.

      However delivering units to a port close to their area of operations rather than having to put them on HETs and transport them who knows how far overland from a deep water port, is a valuable capability, IMHO. As is supporting them logistically from the same austere port.

    4. @DJF they are talking about M-1 because that tank represents the largest and heaviest tactical vehicle the ship can load. NOT because it is the principle loadout.

      The military is focusing more and more on Ro/Ro cargo operations and a slewing quarter ramp gets the JHSV about 3/4 the way to objective levels.

      Think of LAVs and/or MTVR rolling off the ramp and up an pier for a say diversion or even a raid.

    5. DJF - well said!

      leesea - "off the ramp and up an pier for s say diversion or even a raid." You're putting them into combat situations and that isn't possible with the current civilian crews. As a future development, maybe, but not now. So, again, we're back to what current purpose do they serve?

    6. civilian crewed ships have been supporting naval operations for centuries!
      ONLY lawyers say that MSC civilian crewed ships cannot conduct or support offensive operations. One stroke of a pen can change that! So don't say it isn't possible.
      Some posters seem to have limited knowledge of the sealift operations that go on every year and have included HSVs since 2001. Refer to tables in back of MSC Annual for 2012.

  5. Gents let me throw in here, since I have been on the Spearhead twice.
    The JHSV is an amalgam of USMC, USN and Army rqmts which generically call for an intra-theater transport. I subscribe to Capt Hughes definition of amphibious LIFT as ALL forms of cargo which require movement to a offload point. The Marines in particular see the JHSV has allowing for movement of smaller elements along the littorals crossdecked from amphibs and MPS. The Army was thinking more origin to destination moves of shorter duration. The Navy as thinking about soft power missions of the HA/Dr types.

    Let me address all of those service needs. The Marines recognize that using a seabase 25 to 250 nm offshore may well be the ONLY way to sustain an assault by being somewhat removed from the GRAMM threat. BUT the big expensive amphibs have limited inter-operability with MPS much less the ability to crossdeck units. It has been done before off Africa using existing INLS in RRDF formation. The Army is backing out of sea transportation of the intra type. The Navy can't understand there is NO need for high speed for routine soft power missions, but do see the JHSV as pat of a first responder force for DR.

    That covers the where they came from part. Next post will talk to their cost vs. utility

  6. Ok now let look at the rest of the program.
    The JHSV is based on the earlier Austal HSV WestPac Express which has been hauling Marines around the III MEF part of the world for OVER a decade. That establishes the JHSVs utility as a intra-theater transport to me. The JHSV have 312 troop seats airline style as has been used before (berthing for only 104 means sleep in shifts) plus 600 tons of cargo on missions typically 96 hours (without replenishing). That is a damn good mix to me. One could lift a battalion minus from Okinawa to Korea for instance. That is what the Marines call an admin lift and platforms for admin lifts went away about 15 years ago. Otherwise one has to use the amphibs themselves, but I see the JHSV as be a fast reinforers to Marines.

    Another mission as mentioned above is to move cargo from the MPS to other destinations whether that be in an AOA for the Gators, or a small port for littoral movements, or a first responder to a DR site. Each MPSRON will have one JHSV assigned although I am hearing that they will be theater assets as well.

    YES the JHSV can lift fully operational tactical vehicles as well as various mission modules (though LCS is not mentioned~).

    The most significant characteristic is the mission bay which I would call a flexdeck. It's size and configuration affords many different loadouts. The JHSV can take that load quickly to its destination and return for another load.

    When it comes to utility, the key metric is Throughput. The amount of cargo from origin to destination and time consumed. The JHSV stomps conventional cargo ships and even amphibs in that area. Gators need a whole task group and can only spit cargo (in significant nummbers) out the end of their skinny garage aka wet well dock. The MPS and other sealift ships need to deploy systems like the RRDF but can move thousands of tons more. When that cargo is transferred to an JHSV or two, the volume starts adding up. NO I do not expect the troop lift to be a significant factor when compared to amphibs in an assault but when was the last time that was done in ernest?

    When it comes to lower phase order missions like admin lifts, soft power missions and small unit deployments, I think the JHSV will come into their own. I forgot to mention above that the USN needs a transport for NECC and NSW units which does NOT impinge on amphibs loadout. JHSV should be great for both of those. SOCOM and 4th Fleet have both looked at the Spearhead for naval missions it their AORs.

    BTW this ten ship buy is basically a good deal, not a great deal but that is the Navy ship acquisition system's fault. The first off ship cost over $204 mil, the last of class should cost around $194 million. Buy today's standards that is acceptable. Could they have been procured for less YES I would guess something around $125 mil if the Navy had stuck to strictly modifying an IMO HSC standards design. They didn't, but JHSVs are still a good deal compared to say LCS?~~

    I think you will see design mods to future JHSVs especially in their flight decks, maybe also in troop accomodations? IF the USN ever decides its alright for sealift ships to support offensive operations, there is room for more weapons than the four gun mounts now, and certainly more sensors.

    1. leesea, no the JHSV does not stomp the cargo ship unless you limit the comparison to a one-way, one-time lift, as I explained above. Otherwise, the cargo ship is far superior assuming it can unload.

    2. @CNO first off the JHSV is a sealift ship which carried cargo aka a cargo ship. So if you want to do comparison drill down to specific ship types. The JHSV in my parlance is a Ro/Pax fast transport. So like Bsmitty does compare the JHSV to similar ships as he has not generic ship types.
      BTW many cargo ships operating today are in parlance "not geared" meaning they have no cargo handling equipment installed as the HSVs, HSTs, and JHSV all do.
      The current HSVs are NOT only used for one way transport so assumptions that the JHSV is a one way ship are not supported by empirical evidence.

  7. @COMNAVOPS the JHSV lift capacity is 312 troop AND 104 berths plus 41 permanent crew spaces. The is seabag and weapons stowage in the troop area as well as a small galley.
    The helo deck can turn an H-60 or an H-53 and park an H-60 in a bay not quite a hangar.
    The ship has an M-1 capable slewing quarter ramp.
    There is also a crane capable of lifting an 11 meter RHIB into the mission bay.
    There is a gun mount capable of .50s at all four corners.
    There is a goodly CIC/TOC space onboard.
    I gave the correct cost numbers in above post

    1. The problem with the JHSV is not what is, it what is not. What is needed is light wieght amphibious transport, like the DUKW or LARC. S simple vechile design to move cargobetween ship a shore. I does not have to be fast, just workable.

    2. leesea, are you sure about the flight deck being able to support the weight of an H-53 or H-60? I haven't seen anything that explicitly says that and I ask because the LCS can't support an H-53. The only thing I've seen is that it can support a "medium" helo, whatever that means.

    3. ROGER both helos IN the ship specs and the flight deck is bigger than a Perry.

  8. Leesea,very informative post,thanks

  9. The JHSV does not "stomp" conventional sealift for through put.

    Think of the JHSV as fulfiling the role of a WWII APD (destroyer troop transport) and you are on target.

    Of course APDs had a 5" gun, modest AA guns, and cranes to lower landing craft, so we can see that JHSV has some shortfalls as well. The Danish Absalom class is a far better APD than JHSV. Think of what the could have done had it converted Spruance class destroyers to APD specs instead of sinking them!

    1. JHSV isn't really an APD. It's a taxi service, shuttling troops and equipment between theater ports (or Sea Bases).

      APDs traveled with naval task forces, more like small versions of modern amphibious ships.

  10. The Danish Absalom is quoted at a cost of $267M per unit which buys you a ship with a 5" gun, VLS ESSM missiles, 8x harpoons, hangers to actualy support two medium lift helicopters, space for 7 vehicles upt to MBT size, assualt landing craft and a stern ramp.

    The JHSV at $125-$204M clearly gives up a lot in comparison.

    1. You can't really compare prices of foreign ships with those built in the US. The USN would require a significant redesign to conform to Navy standards, and that would jack the price up. Plus, it's difficult to tell if the Absalon price includes Government Furnished Equipment (e.g. radars, weapons, sensors).

      The big problem is, the civilian-spec Westpac Express only cost $45 million. Is JHSV really that much better? As leesea said, we should've stuck with just minor modifications to an existing HSC hull.

    2. to be accurate the latest contract award for JHSV was $189 mil per ship

  11. Transport seabees to a construction site and have them start work as early as possible?
    That would be constructing airport and harbour facilities like this.
    Area of operations would be in between the first and second island chain and similar settings.
    Another one would be quickly installing surveillance gear at a new base (like Spitzbergen during WWII). Any sonar and eavesdropping station that surprisingly pops up is an asset in containing the air and subsurface threats in a region well outside the direct surface threats that requite cruisers.

    1. Setting up area denial components like coastal batteries and air defences. The battle zone is always in front of an island chain and the JHSV does the island hopping behind such a protective chain, maintaining and switching the defences on all these islands.