The Navy is planning to design and field two hulls under the Common Hull Auxiliary Multi-Mission Platform (CHAMP) program to fulfill its five main missions.

Last year, the Navy started looking for a common replacement to various auxiliary ships that are approaching the end of their service lives, in part to help keep costs low (Defense Daily, Aug. 9, 2018).

The Military Sealift Command, dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Robert E. Peary (T-AKE 5) steams by while conducting an underway replenishment with the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19). (Photo: U.S. Navy)

All of the auxiliary ships are older than 35 years and are scheduled for retirement starting in the mid-2020s.

Although the Navy started with a common hull configuration, the program is now moving toward two hulls following industry comments, Capt. Scot Searles, strategic and theater sealift program manager, said here Wednesday during the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium in Arlington, Va.

“We believe initially it’s probably going to be 2 hulls, not a single hull. But that’s still a great savings over trying to design 5 hulls. So we’re still looking forward to saving some money,” Searles said.

Searles explained that the Navy “started out thinking that it was going to be one hull. We got some industry feedback from our industry studies and RFIs [requests for information] and what we found on our own examination as well as industry feedback is that these five mission areas fall into two basic categories. One is a very volume intensive category where you need a large volume inside the ship – so that’s the sealift mission where we’re trying to carry a lot of marine and Army cargo,” Searles said.

“The other pocket falls into a people intensive mission. So you’re talking about a hospital ship or submarine tender, and you’re talking about a lot of people moving. So the people intensive ships didn’t need as much internal volume so we actually found that those can be in smaller ships but needed to have more berthing capabilities,” he added.

The two hulls are specifically expected to be divided between command and control, submarine tending, and medical services as people-intensive and then sealift and aviation intermediate maintenance support as volume-intensive.

Searles’ update came a week after Navy released an unrestricted solicitation for industry studies of CHAMP that focused on minimizing costs. The solicitation said the Navy “believes that leveraging commonality across the mission types is feasible and will reduce the acquisition and lifecycle costs” (Defense Daily, Jan. 9).

The solicitation ranked the priority of CHAMP missions, leading with sealift and submarine tending.

Searles elaborated the “desperate need” to recapitalize sealift ships by the 2020s in particular. The sealift vessels are scheduled to start retiring in the mid-202s, followed by the submarine tenders beginning in 2029. Therefor the Navy is focusing on replacing those mission types first.

The U.S. Navy’s Expeditionary Fast Transport vessel USNS City of Bismarck (EPF-9) is launched in Mobile, Ala. On June 7, 2017. (Photo: David Stoltz, U.S. Navy).

When asked, Searles said the Austal USA Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) or General Dynamics [GD] NASSCO Expeditionary Seabase (ESB) vessels are potential auxiliary ship options.

Looking at EPF, ESB, and others, “we’re seeking from industry – tell us. This is the whole point of the industry studies, is to tell us the most affordable way to recapitalize these ships.”

Searles underscored when the strategic and theater sealift program looks at the relative priority of sealift and auxiliary ships compared to platforms like aircraft carriers and submarines, “we have to be economical, we have to be able to get all the capability we need at the best price possible because once you get that far down the food chain, every penny counts.”

“So we’re seeking from industry to tell us what are the hot productions, what are the things that we can do to leverage commercial designs for these auxiliary ships,” he added.

Searles said the auxiliary ships do not need to fully meet military specifications, which ought to help keep costs down. He noted the ESB itself was derived from a commercial oil tanker with mostly commercial-standard systems. However, the flight deck and medical spaces would need to meet military standards, but “the propulsion plants can be completely commercial.”

“We need to leverage that kind of thing, hot production lines, existing commercial technologies, all those things that make ships affordable.”