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Navy spending millions on repairs after Expeditionary Fast Transports can’t handle high seas

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Posted at 11:52 AM, Jan 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-14 12:02:08-05
The USNS Spearhead prepares to dock at Naval Station Rota, Spain. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michaela Garrison/Released)

The USNS Spearhead prepares to dock at Naval Station Rota, Spain. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michaela Garrison/Released)

The Navy is spending millions to repair the Military Sealift Command’s new Expeditionary Fast Transports because their weak bows can’t handle high seas, according to a report from Bloomberg News.

Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation, revealed the problems in a report to Congress.

Built by Austal U.S.A., The Little Creek based USNS Spearhead and her sister ships are designed for rapid, intra-theater transport of troops and military equipment. The 338-foot-long aluminum catamarans are designed for speed, flexibility and maneuverability.

“The entire ship class requires reinforcing structure” to bridge the twin hulls of the all-aluminum catamarans because of a design change that the Navy adopted at Austal’s recommendation for the $2.1 billion fleet of Expeditionary Fast Transports…

“The Navy accepted compromises in the bow structure, presumably to save weight, during the building of these ships,” Gilmore wrote lawmakers, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, in a September letter that wasn’t previously disclosed. “Multiple ships of the class have suffered damage to the bow structure.”

The transports’ reconfigurable 20,000-square-foot mission bay area can be quickly adapted to support a number of different missions – anything from carrying containerized portable hospitals to support disaster relief to transporting tanks and troops.

Expeditionary Fast Transports are capable of transporting approximately 600 tons of military troops, vehicles, supplies and equipment 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots, and are designed to operate in austere ports and waterways.

So far, the Navy has spent almost $2.4 million strengthening the bow of the first four vessels delivered since late 2012.

Repair costs include $511,000 on the initial vessel, the USNS Spearhead, which was damaged during deployment by waves slamming into the superstructure, according to test data cited by Gilmore and the Military Sealift Command.

The second, third and fourth vessels cost as much as $1.2 million each to repair and a fifth vessel, the USNS Trenton, awaits its bow reinforcement during its next scheduled shipyard visit, Tom Van Leunen, a spokesman for the Military Sealift Command, which owns the vessels, said in an e-mail.

The retrofits have added 1,736 pounds to the ship’s weight, displacing 250 gallons of fuel but having a minimal impact on the vessel’s range when fully loaded, Gilmore said. His concern about the vessel is likely to be highlighted in his annual report on weapons testing that’s scheduled to be released by Feb. 1.

“Since the repairs are still in progress, there has been no heavy weather testing yet to verify if the fixes are sufficient,” Marine Corps Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a spokesman for Gilmore, said in an e-mail.

Related: USNS Spearhead deploys