ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- The huge vessel looks quite out of place among the small yachts and sailboats at a shallow pier. Neighborhood people on their morning jogs and dog walks looked amazingly at the HSV 2 Swift on its four-day port call here March 30 (2004).
Many of those visiting the ship during an open house about six miles from the Pentagon wondered how an 11,000-ton vessel could be moored so close to dock. A look down at the depth mark on one of the vessel's unique-style catamarans show it's floating in less than nine feet of water.
As tour guide Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jorge Flores, explained, "Not many captains could drive a vessel in less than 12 feet of water and still be the captain."
The HSV, which stands for high-speed vessel, may pave the way forward in the Defense Department's transformation. The Army is interested in how to get troops and equipment into the theater quicker. The Navy is looking for a platform to conduct a variety of sea-based operations, such as mine sweeping. The Swift has thus far proved it can do both.
The Swift is currently under Navy-Army joint testing as the next platform for military operations in a littoral environment operations conducted very near the coast or shoreline.
In the past, the military has relied mostly on airlift and sealift to deploy troops and equipment. Ocean travel has meant slow, deep-draft vessels. However, the SWIFT has a lightweight aluminum hull, which makes it fast and agile. It can even maneuver right up to the shoreline.
Two companies primarily constructed the vessel. Australian shipbuilder Incat, builds some of the worlds fastest vehicle and passenger ferries, and Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipyards, Inc., builds military patrol boats, offshore oil field support vessels, tugs, rigs and lifeboats.
The Navy has a two-year lease on the Swift at a cost of $21.7 million a year. The Swift is currently operating as an interim Mine Warfare Command and Support Ship. It's undergoing testing for mine countermeasures and as a sea-basing platform. The Swift is also being looked at for other transformational modular mission payload initiatives.
The Swift has a stern ramp capable of loading and unloading a variety of military vehicles and can hold 615 metric tons of equipment. For example, it can carry the 60-ton M-1A1 main battle tank.
The craft is also fitted with a load-compensating crane that can launch and recover small boats and unmanned vehicles of up to 26,000 pounds while under way. A variety of helicopters can use its flight deck.
But Navy officials say what also makes the Swift unique is the vessel's high speed, shallow drafts, versatility and maneuverability. Flores says the ship can "turn on a dime" and when it comes to speed, no other Navy ship is faster.
The Swift floats on two sleek wave-piercing catamarans propelled by four jet- propulsion diesel engines, together producing about 40,000 horsepower. The ship can reach up to 42 knots or 85-plus kilometers per hour "warp speed" considering the average Navy ship cruises at about 12 knots.
And Flores says that when under attack, "Speed is my best friend."
"If there is a threat, I can get away from it to eliminate that threat and at the same time I can use my ship's self-defense weapons to neutralize the threat without placing the ship in danger." The Swift's self-defense mechanism includes seven crew-served 25-50 mm machine guns, and a grenade machine gun.
But the ship offers more than just speed. Its open design allows it to be configured for a variety of military missions, according to Navy Cdr. Clark Price, the vessel's captain.
"We can work with SEALs one day, switch over to mine sweeping the next, then flight ops the next," he said. "We can do multiple missions altogether -- that's the great thing about this ship." Price pointed out the ship could even be turned into a hospital in a day.
Since its maiden voyage, the Swift, which was delivered to the Navy on Aug. 15, 2003, has already proven its versatility. The ship served in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a logistics base and a staging platform for Navy- Marine SEAL teams operating off of Umm Qasr, Iraq. There the ship also tested its mine-warfare capabilities.