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HSV 4676 WestPac Express

In an effort to save time when deploying Marines off Okinawa for training, the III Marine Expeditionary Force leased a diesel-powered, water jet catamaran over two months for testing purposes. The Austal Westpac Express, better known as a High-Speed Vessel or HSV, arrived at Naha Military port on 11 July 2001. Over two months, III MEF tested the ship's capabilities to transport troops, vehicles and equipment to off-island training sites. During this test period the III Marine Expeditionary Force deployed and redeployed Marines and vehicles from 3rd Marine Division to Camp Fuji. The rest of the time was spent conducting static-load training for III MEF units and a lot of data collection.

WestPac Express was chartered by the Third Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) for the rapid deployment of Marine battalions and equipment in the Western Pacific for training exercises. The contract involves an initial 'proof of concept' period of approximately two months, but it is anticipated that this will be extended for a longer period once the vessel demonstrates its ability to meet the Marines' needs. WestPac Express will operate between White Beach Okinawa, Yokosuka Naval Base, Iwakuni, and other ports in Japan.

The HSV would result in a sizable reduction in the number of aircraft flights into and out of Kadena Air Base. The HSV would decrease the noise impact on the communities surrounding Kadena Air Base. Over the course of a typical year, more than 200 flights transit Kadena Air Base in support of III MEF off-island training. Another significant benefit of using the HSV is a decrease in road travel by military trucks and buses in the more congested southern portion of Okinawa in and around Naha. Currently, Marine Corps personnel and equipment must travel from Camps Schwab and Hansen on Okinawan roads to meet their flights out of Kadena Air Base and to load ships at Naha Military Port. These trips presently take 1 - 2 hours one way to complete. The primary loading and unloading port for the HSV will be Kin Red Pier adjacent to Camp Hansen. The use of Kin Red Pier will reduce the amount of vehicle traffic in the more congested southern portion of Okinawa.

The Westpac Express is a hybrid (Roll-on/roll-off passenger ferry/Cargo freighter) vessel. The Westpac Express, which can travel at speeds of more than 40 knots, is 331 feet long and has two vehicle and cargo decks with a combined 33,000 square feet of storage space. The ship has no berthing for passengers. The ship is capable of transporting 970 Marines in airline style reclining seats on its upper deck. Along with the passengers, the Westpac Express can carry 305 ton of equipment.

The 101m "WestPac Express" is the largest of Austal's Auto Express series of vehicle-passenger ferries and showcases the talent and diversity of the Western Australian shipyard. Austal's Auto Express was the world's first vehicle-passenger catamaran to be able to carry coaches/buses. In fact, efficient vehicle handling and superb interior outfits have set the Austal Auto Express apart from its competitors. The Auto Express 101 model, used in the Marine Corps demonstration, is a 101 meter long high speed vehicle-passenger catamaran with a capacity of 950 - 1200 passengers, 250 - 300 cars or 16 trucks & 96 cars, with a speed of 37 knots.

The HSV can move nearly 1,000 Marines and 300 tons of equipment in a single load. If III MEF were to use aircraft to move this same number of Marines and equipment it would require 14 to 17 military aircraft spread out over a 14 to 17 day period. The WestPac Express' impact on III MEF operations has reduced in-transit days plus permitted more equipment and personnel be transported as a complete unit.

The vessel enables III MEF to rapidly transport a complete battalion of 950 marines together with up to 550 tons of vehicles and equipment, in one lift, with considerable strategic and cost advantages. WestPac Express is also fully truck capable and has a maximum deadweight of 750 tons. It has a 15 ton axle load and is capable of carrying ten 40 tonne trucks. Lane widths are 3.5 meters and the bow door allows for very quick loading and discharge times.

The ability to carry such high loads is a considerable savings in time and money when compared to using military and commercial aircraft. If III MEF were to use aircraft to move this same number of Marines and equipment it would require 14 to 17 military aircraft spread out over a 14- to 17-day period in and out of Kadena. Currently, III MEF relies heavily on Air Mobility Command strategic airlift support in order to transport Marines and equipment to training sites in the Asian-Pacific Region.

Over its years of use throughout the world, the HSV has proven to be a safe mode of transport. HSVs have been safely transiting waters all across the globe for more than 10 years. This is not a new technology or an experimental vessel. For example, the Royal Australian Navy was very successful at using a high-speed catamaran in real-world operations supporting the International Force East Timor mission.

WestPac Express has transported nearly every piece of equipment in the Marine Corps inventory, excluding fixed wing aircraft, CH-53E helicopters and M1-A1 tanks. During the trial period, the HSV also transported civilian fire trucks, in an effort to test the Marine Corps ability to respond to potential requests for humanitarian assistance or disaster relief.

The WestPac Express, which is owned and operated by Austal Ships Ltd. of Australia, was thoroughly tested and evaluated during an exhaustive trial period that lasted 238 days, from June 2001 to early February 2002. The HSV is a high speed, hybrid (roll-on/roll-off passenger ferry/cargo freighter) vessel, which is well suited for III MEF training exercises. During the trial period, the vessel transported more than 10,000 Marines and more than 15.4 million pounds of cargo from Okinawa to destinations such as mainland Japan, Korea and Guam.

III MEF's use of the HSV also resulted in a sizable reduction in aircraft flights in and out of Kadena Air Base, which has greatly reduced noise impact on the surrounding communities. The amount of cargo and personnel transported during the trial period was equivalent to 276 C-17 cargo plane flights. Another significant benefit has been a decrease in road travel by military trucks and buses in the more congested southern portion of Okinawa near Naha. Convoys of Marine Corps personnel and equipment from Camp Schwab and Camp Hansen to Kadena AB and Naha Military Port were a common evolution and now have been reduced significantly thus reducing the impact on both Naha traffic and surrounding neighborhoods.

The Navy's Military Sealift Command and the U.S. Marine Corps' Third Marine Expeditionary Force opened a new chapter in defense logistics 30 January 2002. MSC awarded a $31 million, 36-month contract to Austal Ships Pty. Ltd. of Henderson, Australia, to operate a high speed catamaran for III MEF. When reimbursables are included, the contract could total more than $49 million.

Okinawa-based Marines will continue using the high-speed WestPac Express ferry for three years. After what Marine officers called the "overwhelming success" of a six-month trial run, the Military Sealift Command awarded Austal Ships Ltd. an initial $31 million lease for the 331-foot long catamaran. According to the contract announcement, the ship will be based at Okinawa for use by the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force. The ship will sail under Panamanian registry for the first year, then be reflagged under U.S. registry when Austal establishes a U.S. subsidiary in Alabama.



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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:56:52 ZULU