The Navy has commissioned a Requirements Evaluations Team to examine what the future Navy fleet needs in a hospital ship and distributed hospital capability, top Navy officials said in a hearing last Thursday.
James ‘Hondo’ Geurts, the assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, assured the House Armed Services subcommittee on Seapower that “there is no plan to erode the hospital ship capacity we have.”
He explained the 30-year shipbuilding plan showing one of the two ships going away as what would happen with no further action
Rather, the Navy is looking again “into the future, is that adequate and is there perhaps a different way to look” at the hospital capability.
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) brought up the concern of the Navy maintaining enough hospital ship capability because of its importance both for the services and humanitarian missions.
Last month lawmakers at a joint hearing of the Readiness and Seapower subcommittees blasted a Navy plan to retire either the USNS Comfort or USNS Mercy in 2020, as reflected in the FY ’19 budget request (Defense Daily, March 8).
Both vessels were built by General Dynamics [GD] NASSCO as oil tankers in the 1970s and were made Navy ships in the 1980s.
Vice Adm. William Merz, deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Systems, explained further that the Navy has made plans to do a service life extension of both ships.
“The problems with those ships is there are only two of them and they’re big. And we’re moving to a more distributed maritime operation construct. So we have recently commissioned what we call a Requirements Evaluations Team to look at intra-theater missions,” Merz said.
“And there’s a whole collection of missions that we’re trying to get our arms around. One of them is distributed hospital capability. And these are going to be fairly challenging requirements. It’s going to have to be able to support a V-22, for instance, so how do you manage the size of that, the speed and how it’s going to go.”
Merz said there is no lack of commitment form the Navy and “matter of fact, we’re taking a broader look at the capabilities and whether or not they are aligned with the way we plan to fight our future battles. So you’re going to see that requirement probably surface here this year, and then we’ll start the process of how we’re going to fill that requirement.”
Wittman asked if the Navy is looking at comparing the use of one large ship versus several smaller ships, raising the idea of using the Navy’s Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF).
The EPF is built by Austal USA.
Merz confirmed the service is looking at that option, with everything potentially on the table.
He said the Navy will likely follow the same model used in the future frigate FFG(X) program, “where industry was actually part of the requirements mission, where industry was actually part of the requirements discussion, which we think is already bearing fruit with the spectrm of designs that we get to work through.”
So it will be up to shipbuilders in whether they want to fill the requirmeents by constructing a new platform or modifying an existing one. “That’s really up to them. And we’ll compete that accordingly,” Merz said.