The USNS Fall River, the fourth vessel in the US Navy's new Spearhead-class of high-speed, shallow-draft transport catamarans launched for the first time over the weekend. This multi-function catamaran will transport cargo and up to a battalion of troops between ports.
The Fall River measures 338 feet long and weighs just over 1,500 tons. Its four diesel engines provide the catamaran with enough power to propel the ship up to 45 knots. This will provide the Navy with the ability to easily and rapidly transfer troops and supplies between established positions — even in the absence of any existing infrastructure — to better support the simultaneous, decentralized battles and campaigns Navy Expeditionary Combat Command anticipates dealing with in coming years.
The Fall River can hold between a company (around 130 troops) and a battalion (312 troops), in addition to its 41 sailor crew, depending on how many small- and medium-sized combat vehicles will be carried. It also includes a landing pad capable of handling a V-22 Osprey. Incredibly, even with a full load, the Fall River's draft is less than 15 feet — allowing it to operate in offshore shallows and in rivers. It is also capable of assisting in peacetime and disaster relief operations.
Three such Joint High Speed Vessels have already been built by naval defence contractor Austal as part of a $US1.6 billion, 10-ship contract, and are moored in the Mobile River in Alabama. They share some 70 per cent of their design with the Hawaii Superferry line that Austal also produces, which should reduce the new fleets maintenance costs and downtime. [Defence Update - Global Security - Wiki]