103-meter catamaran now well underway with the first modules now erected after their completion in the new Module Manufacturing Facility.

Just over six months after the official opening of Austal’s new Module Manufacturing Facility (MMF) in November 2009, Austal USA hosted a keel-laying ceremony at its shipyard in Mobile, Alabama (July 22), to signify the erection of the first modules on the U.S. Department of Defense’s next generation multi-use platform, the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV). This is part of a 10-ship program potentially worth over US $1.6 billion.

Keel Laying is the formal recognition of the start of the ship’s module erection process. In earlier times it was the “laying down” of the central or main timber making up the backbone of a vessel. Today, fabrication of the ship modules begins months before the units are actually joined. However, the keel laying symbolically recognizes the joining of modular components and the ceremonial beginning of a ship.

“Spearhead” (JHSV 1) will be a U.S. Army vessel (USAV) and its name represents a major feature of the Regimental Insignia of the Transportation Corps. The insignia is a gold colour metal and enamel device consisting of a ship’s steering wheel bearing a shield, charged with a winged vehicle wheel on a rail, all gold, centered upon a brick red spearhead point up, all standing upon a curving gold scroll spanning the lower tips of the spearhead and inscribed, “Spearhead of Logistics,” in blue letters.

The ceremony signified the erection of the modular components that will form part of a 103-meter aluminium catamaran capable of transporting troops and their equipment, supporting humanitarian relief efforts, operating in shallow waters, and reaching speeds in excess of 35 knots fully loaded. This is the first of a class of 10 vessels to be operated by both the U.S. Army and Navy.

Austal USA is the prime contractor, responsible for designing and constructing the 103-meter high-speed catamaran. General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems is the platform mission systems engineering agent responsible for the design, integration and testing of the ship’s mission systems, including internal and external communications, electronic navigation, and aviation and armament systems.

The ceremony was attended by many high-ranking officials from the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, the State of Alabama, and City and County of Mobile, who joined the Austal workforce to mark this historic occasion.

Some of these included:

  • Rear Admiral William E. Landay, III, US Navy, Program Executive Officer, Ships
  • Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby, US Navy, Commander, Military Sealift Command
  • Mr. Kevin M. Fahey, US Army, Program Executive Officer, Combat Support and Combat Service Support
  • Mr. Arthur W. Divens, Jr. Executive Director, Amphibious Warfare and Auxiliary Sealift Office, Program Executive Office, Ships
  • Captain George M. Sutton, US Navy, JHSV Program Manager
  • Captain Dean M. Krestos, US Navy, Supervisor of Shipbuilding Bath, ME
  • The Honorable Jim Folsom, Jr., Lieutenant Governor, State of Alabama
  • Mobile City Council Members Reggie Copeland, Connie Hudson, Jermaine Burrell, Fred Richardson and Gina Gregory
  • Mr. Lou Von Thaer, President, General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems

Following his remarks, the ship’s sponsor, Chief Warrant Officer Four Kenneth M. Wahlman, U.S. Army, Retired, authenticated the keel-laying event by welding his initials into the hull section with the assistance of Austal fabricator, Kelvin Watkins. Kelvin was selected by his superiors to fulfill this honor due to his dedication, positive attitude and outstanding performance on the job.

Chief Warrant Officer Wahlman was born in Hammond, Indiana. He was inducted into the Army in 1966. He retired after 25 years of service in September 1991. His military awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Achievement Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Antarctica Service Medal with Winter Over Device and the Nuclear Reactor Operator Shift Supervisor Badge. Chief Warrant Officer Wahlman served as Honorary Warrant Officer of the Regiment from 1999 through 2002. In July 2004, he was inducted into the Transportation Corps Hall of Fame.

Representing Austal USA, President and Chief Operating Officer, Joe Rella, who served as the master of ceremonies, reflected on the significance to Austal of beginning work on the JHSV.

“Spearhead” will be the first ship built from modules fabricated entirely in our Module Manufacturing Facility. Today’s keel laying ceremony demonstrates the successful execution of Austal’s plan which has been focused on facility and process development, combining with the best shipbuilders in the world to be an efficient producer of high quality vessels.”

Addressing the audience on behalf of the U.S. Army, Brig. Gen. Brian R. Layer, Chief of Transportation, commented: “The Joint High Speed Vessel gives combatant commanders the flexibility to maneuver operationally in a variety of missions, including Overseas Contingency Operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, special operations and emerging seabasing concepts in austere port environments.”

Capt. George Sutton commented, “Our commitment to fully maturing the design prior to the start of construction has already paid huge dividends. Additionally, the use of proven commercial technologies and the shipbuilder’s improvements to their production processes have paved the way for an already very successful program.”

“The JHSV’s aggressive and streamlined acquisition process and the service’s ability to leverage commercial investments has allowed us to provide a more maneuverable and flexible vessel to our warfighters,” said Col. R. Eric Fletcher, the Army’s project manager for Force Projection. “As a multi-use platform, the JHSV will provide our nation’s warfighters with the capabilities to operate in a variety of missions, across the globe.”

Austal’s initial JHSV contract included options for nine additional vessels to be awarded between FY09 and FY13 for a total value of up to US $1.6 billion. JHSV 2 is scheduled for start of construction in Fall 2010 and JHSV 3 in Spring 2011. Austal also recently received an award from the U.S. Navy which funds long lead-time material acquisition efforts for JHSV 4 and 5.