By Geoff Fein

Austal USA has been awarded a Phase II $185 million contract to build one Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) with an option for nine more for the Army and Navy, beating out rival bids from General Dynamics [GD] and Bollinger Shipyards.

"This is an exciting procurement for the Navy, Marine Corps and Army. We are very excited to be getting this new asset," Rear Adm. William Landay, Program Executive Officer for Ships, said in a statement. "After operating similar, leased high-speed vessels in the past, the services agree that this platform is urgently needed. This is a perfect example of the military branches working together to define and execute a mutually beneficial capability."

The contract calls for a total of 10 ships, five to be operated by the Navy and five to be operated by the Army. The Army will own and operate the Army-funded vessels after procurement. Army responsibilities for their vessels will include crew training and vessel maintenance. The Navy will have the same responsibilities for the Navy-funded vessels, the Navy said.

The first ship, an Army vessel, is expected to be delivered in 2011.

The first Navy JHSV will be delivered in 2012.

According to the Navy, JHSV will be capable of transporting 600 short tons 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots. The ships will be 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). Other joint requirements include an aviation flight deck to support day and night air vehicle launch and recovery operations. JHSV will be operational in Sea State 3 and survivable in Sea State 7. Also, JHSV will have airline style seating for more than 300 embarked forces and fixed berthing for approximately 100 more.

Once delivered, JHSV will be a key component of the U.S. military’s expeditionary warfare capability, according to the Navy (Defense Daily, Feb. 1).

The JHSV contract award had been expected last week, after Pentagon acquisition chief John Young told reporters in October that the Navy was likely to award the JHSV contract in early November. For its part, the Navy said it was looking to award the contract as soon as possible (Defense Daily, Nov,. 3)

"I am pleased that the Navy continues to recognize Austal’s tremendous shipbuilding capabilities," Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, said in a statement posted on his website Wednesday. "This $1.6 billion award for ten vessels is a testament to Alabama’s stellar workforce. This award enhances south Alabama’s defense community and complements our state’s service to our armed forces."

The Navy’s current acquisition plan calls for building 10 vessels between FY ’10 and FY ’15.

In January, Austal, General Dynamics and Bollinger Shipyards were each awarded a $3 million phase one firm fixed price contract to develop a preliminary design for JHSV.

The JHSV program is a joint effort between the Army and the Navy to acquire high-speed vessels for the two branches of the U.S. military.

A Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) allows the U.S. Navy to use its surface ship acquisition expertise in acquiring these vessels for the Army, which will assume full responsibility post acquisition. The JHSV program merges the Army Theater Support Vessel (TSV) and the Navy High Speed Connector (HSC), taking advantage of the inherent commonality between the two programs (Defense Daily, Feb. 1).

JHSV will be built to commercial survivability standards and will use commercial off the shelf (COTS) components. The Navy also had a cost goals for JHSV of $150 million for the lead ship and $130 million for follow-on ships. The program had called for building a total of eight ships: five for the Army and three for the Navy. The first vessel must be delivered no later than 26 months after the award date (Defense Daily, Feb. 1).

Austal USA is partnered with General Dynamics on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. The team is building an all-aluminum trimaran for its LCS variant–the Independence (LCS-2).