HSV-X1 – Leading The Way

Versatility is the new order of the day for the US military and versatile is just what HSV-X1 Joint Venture is proving to be. With her capability to quickly deploy troops and equipment before speeding away from danger HSV-X1 is turning the heads of her many observers.

HSV-X1 Joint Venture, on charter to the US military from Bollinger/Incat USA, made a name for herself when she served as the Mine Countermeasures Command and Control ship during Gulf of Mexico Exercise. More recently the craft has been under the watchful eye of Marine Corps operational commanders as they explore its potential operational and tactical roles for the first time.

On February 5, the craft left her homeport at Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek in Norfolk, Virginia and set out on a high speed winter Atlantic transit. HSV-X1 completed the passage, unrefueled, in an impressive five days and 17 hours at an average speed of 27 knots.

The purpose of the crossing – Battle Griffin, an exercise off Norway alongside NATO forces between March 7 and 14.

HSV-X1 was used as a platform to test various concepts, such as its ability to move equipment via coastal routes from an arrival port in southern Norway to the exercise in northern Norway.

Yet another list of firsts to the already impressive catalogue of achievements saw HSV-X1 carry out replenishment and re-supply at sea; special insertion and redeployment operations; reconnaissance; command and control; anti-submarine and mine warfare; humanitarian assistance and evacuation; surface warfare and force protection. Never before has a high speed craft accomplished so much.

The observers could not fail to be impressed. During the early stages of the exercise the craft performed a pre-dawn departure for an amphibious raid on Kyrkseteroera, some 75 nautical miles distant. En route she was diverted to hide in a very small fjord as information received indicated the port facility had not yet been secured. Arriving off a pier at high speed the vessel slowed when within 730 metres and, after a very quick berthing completed discharge of Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) and other vehicles in ten minutes, with troops following behind. Within minutes HSV-X1 Joint Venture was underway again, departing the area at high speed and proceeding to sea to escort the mv Obregon into port.

As night fell on that hectic day, HSV-X1 came into her own. A night raid into enemy territory took enemy combatants advancing up the fjord toward friendly forces completely by surprise.

The following day mv Obregon was again under HSV-X1 escort and an advance reconnaissance of the entire 40 nautical miles route was completed in just one hour.

Most apparent was HSV-X1’s ability to navigate at high speed in the very tight confines of Norway’s fjords using the electronic chart system ECDIS and radar, particularly in poor visibility due to snow and rain. Additionally, the craft displayed her capability of operating free from mechanical problems in sub-freezing temperatures with frequent snow. Captain Philip Beierl, Officer in Charge said “HSV-X1 was also able to take advantage of narrow weather windows, as we did by departing Trondheim eight hours early, to get ahead of a predicted weather front. A slower vessel would have had to wait two days for a safe departure.” In doing so, Captain Beierl demonstrated his advanced understanding of strategic capabilities only available to fast craft that easily out run bad weather.

Captain Beierl continued “The craft showed that we could operate safely at 15 knots in beam or following seas of 6 metres significant wave height.”

If HSV-X1 needed to prove she was a workhorse then she did just that towards the end of the exercise, completing a winter intra-theater lift of US Marine Corps (USMC) retrograde cargo for Larvik. Captain Beierl said “26 LAVs, 6 Humvees and 100 troops, plus long range fuel brought the craft to absolutely full load. Calm weather allowed us to travel an outside passage down the coast, rather than the inside route, saving us several hours. Over 650 nautical miles of Norway’s coastal and inland waters was covered in 24 hours at an average speed of 27 knots. On arrival we offloaded USMC cargo in just 22 minutes.” Despite very heavy seas in the final offshore leg of the circuit the round trip was completed in less than 2.5 days.

One of the highlights of the week was when HSV-X1 played host to His Majesty King Harald V. of Norway, the Norwegian Minister of Defense, the Chief of Defense and the US Ambassador to Norway. The party got to see at first hand the impressive capabilities of the craft during a 40 knots passage from Orkanger to Hommelvik, Norway. A demonstration illustrated rapid arrival and departures from austere ports with the craft accelerating to high speed, turning around three miles out and returning to pier-side in under 15 minutes.

Battle Griffin provided the Marine Corps with an opportunity to explore the employment of the HSV-X1 in an inter-theatre deployment role and utility of the High Speed Craft (HSC) technology during expeditionary manoeuver warfare. The exercise provided valuable insight and feedback on the capabilities and any additional requirements for potential procurement and development of the vessel in the future.

Just some of the many accomplishments achieved by HSV-X1 Joint Venture were:

    • flexibility to respond on very short notice to new requirements with little or no outside support
    • sustained speeds of 40 knots in confined waters leading to tactical surprise by opposing forces not expecting such rapid movements
    • ability to launch an amphibious raid into an austere port with complete offload of vehicles and troops in ten minutes
    • ability to carry and precisely lay large numbers of mines
    • ability to easily maneuver in formation with conventional warships

With Battle Griffin complete HSV-X1 Joint Venture turned her bows towards the English Channel and sailed for Rota, Spain where administrative control of the craft was transferred to the US Army for the next stage of her evaluation by the US military.

Transiting the English Channel the craft maintained full speed until entering the Bay of Biscay and turning south. After several hours at slow speed in 4.5 metre head seas Captain Beierl made a 300 nautical miles diversion into the bay to stay in conditions that permitted high speed running. Captain Beierl said “we skirted around Spain’s Cape Finisterre a few hours ahead of a storm. There is no question, a slower ship would have been forced to divert into a French or UK port for at least three days before the weather cleared. We had the ability to divert hundreds of miles and still make schedule.”

During the passage HSV-X1 also lost one main engine due to a cylinder head problem. Despite this and the diversion, the craft arrived in Rota on three engines ten hours ahead of her original schedule.

The craft is now about to join US forces active in the war on terrorism in the Persian Gulf.