The U.S. Navy's evacuation of Lebanon is done. Now, the focus is on delivering humanitarian aid to the Lebanese. At the center of the effort: the Navy's giant, super-quick catamaran.
Until recently, the experimental, Australian-built HSV-2 Swift was working as a mine warfare command and control ship. But with "its enormous 28,000 square foot mission deck, the ability to traverse littoral waters, the capability of handling speeds in excess of 40 knots, and maneuverability that doesn't require tugboat assistance," as Navy Newsstand notes, the catamaran was a natural for the Lebanese operation. "The vessel has the cargo space of about 17 C-17 aircraft and the access of a Cyclone-class patrol boat," said Lt. Cmdr. Phillip Pournelle, executive officer of Swift's Gold Crew.
And it's not the 318-foot catamaran's first humanitarian mission. Back in January, 2005, the Swift sped to Southeast Asia, to deliver aid to tsunami victims. In September, it brought supplies to the Gulf Coast in the wake of hurricane Katrina. The Swift's predecessor helped sneak SEAL teams into southern Iraq during the 2003 invasion.
The "wave-piercing, aluminum-hulled catamaran," originally designed as a commercial vessel, now comes with military enhancements, "such as a helicopter flight deck, small boat and unmanned vehicle launch and recovery capability, and an enhanced communications suite," the Navy says.
But it's the catamaran's ability to quickly get to an from ports -- without help -- that Navy leaders seem to find most attractive.
[Just before the Lebanese mission] "on the afternoon of July 11, Swift left Bahrain's Mina Salman pier with a shipload of cargo destined for USNS Supply (T-AOE 6) moored at Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates. Twelve hours later, the Navy-leased catamaran arrived alongside Supply, ready to off-load.
"The cargo was only touched twice," said Swift's Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Rob Morrison. "[Normally] we'd have to load a truck with the cargo, off-load it at the airport, load it back onto an aircraft, fly it to its destination, off-load it, and move it by truck to the ship, where it's delivered to the ship and finally loaded aboard..."
Upon arrival, Swift's crew had the cargo loaded onto the flight deck, thus allowing Supply's crane immediate access to the palleted goods. Within an hour, the transfer was complete.
UPDATE: HSV-maker Incat is also working on a funky heavyweight elevator for the catamaran. It's designed to take copters up to the flight deck, or lower amphibious vehicles straight in the water, between the ship's twin hulls. "Sounds like a perfect way to deploy a Marine platoon or company for quick-response missions like embassy evacuations and small raids," reader JG says.
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