Two new development contracts issued by the Navy will continue construction on a former joint Army-Navy program, while the other will mark the beginning of a brand new class of heavy transport ship, according to the service.

The deal inked between the Navy and prime contractor General Dynamics [GD] late last month clears the way for construction to begin on the first Mobile Landing Platform (MLP 1) ship at the company’s shipyards in San Diego.

The Strategic and Theater Sealift directorate in the Navy’s Program Executive Office for Ships is procuring the first-of-class vessel ship, designed to support the Maritime Prepositioning Ship squadrons for the sea service.

"The start of production for a first-in-class ship is a monumental milestone," said Capt. Henry Stevens, Strategic and Theater Sealift program manager, in a June 30 command statement. "The MLP program will benefit from the high degree of design and production-planning maturity that has already been accomplished by the Navy [General Dynamics] team."

In late May, the Navy awarded General Dynamics’s shipbuilding arm a $744 million contract covering design and development of MLP 1,2 and 3. As designed, the new MLP fleet will allow the Navy to transport vehicles and equipment ashore, while leveraging “float on/float-off” technologies, as well as a modifiable mission deck “to maximize capability,” according to a separate command statement released at the time.

The recent MLP is a follow-on to a $115 million deal inked last August between the Navy and the company to begin procurement of long-lead items for the MLP development.

As designed, the new MLP fleet will allow the Navy to transport vehicles and equipment ashore, while leveraging “float on/float-off” technologies, as well as a modifiable mission deck “to maximize capability,” according to the Navy. Once complete, the new MLP ships will also be able to support a maximum of three Landing Craft Air Cushioned (LCAC) amphibious ships.

The Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) will be used for “fast intra-theater transportation of troops, military vessel and equipment”capable of moving up to 700 short tons within a 1,200 nautical mile range at an average speed of 35 knots, while operating in shallow-draft ports and waterways, according to the June Navy statement.  

The first ship is expected to be delivered in fiscal year 2013 and be operational in fiscal year 2015.

Along with the startup of the MLP line, the Navy has agreed to terms with shipbuilder Austal USA to begin construction on the newest tranche of JHSVs, the first JHSV ships to be built since the Navy assumed control of the former joint program.

The deal covers Austal’s work on JHSV 6 and 7 in the fleet, according to another Navy statement issued on June 30. Terms of the deal fall in line with the previously-awarded, fixed-price incentive contract for detail design and construction of one JHSV with the option for the construction of up to nine additional ships and associated shore-based spares, when the project was a joint endeavor between the Navy and Army.

In May, the Army agreed to transfer all 10 of its JHSV ships to the Navy, along with an anticipated total of $604.8 million in research, development and procurement dollars for the effort, as part of a memorandum of understanding, signed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and his Army counterpart John McHugh.

Along with transitioning the five JHSVs currently in the Army’s arsenal to the Navy, the MoA also guarantees shipments of the remaining five boats to the sea service once complete (Defense Daily, May 2).

The Navy’s Strategic Mobility and Combat Logistics (N42) within the service’s material readiness and logistics shop will oversee the JHSV, while the Army’s logistics directorate (G-4) will run the program transition process.

The decision to shift the JHSV program to the Navy was one of the many recommendations to come out of the Army and Navy warfighter talks last December.