April 10, 2004
The US Army, US Navy, and US Marine Corps have been testing, for the past two years, the Australian-built USS Swift (HSV-2). This twin-hulled vessel offers a number of innovative changes in traditional naval design. It is now being tested with a number of unmanned vehicles aboard.
Built in only 10 months for under $ 100 million -- about 5 percent that of an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer -- HSV-2 is testing its suitability as a launching and command platform for many types of unmanned vehicles: vertical takeoff and landing unmanned aerial vehicles as well as unmanned underwater vehicles. It is also seen as a prime "mother ship" for Special Operations small boats and minisubs.
The Navy, having identified amphibious warfare and mine warfare as the two initially most promising duties for the Swift, is bringing in sailors from the Naval Amphibious Command at Little Creek, VA, and Mine Warfare Command at Ingleside, TX to work on the Swift. According to Mine Warfare Command, Swift itself is also the interim replacement for USS Inchon, the Mine Warfare Support ship, as well as for joint experimentation purposes.
The US Army is currently showing as much enthusiasm for the Swift-type ships as is the Navy, as 21st century warfare doctrine continues to blur the once sharp lines between the different services' operational requirements. Swift is currently serving operationally as an interim Mine Warfare Command and Support Ship (MCS) and supporting "transformational modular mission payload initiatives." Lessons learned aboard Swift through the experimentation with unmanned underwater and surface vehicles and with unmanned aerial vehicles in the mine warfare mission area will
be folded into development of future Mine Countermeasures ops for HSV and may replace earlier concepts of the littoral combat ship (LCS), the most recent conceptual incarnation of the latter coming under increasing fire from Congress as being too big, too expensive, and of outdated technology.
According to reports, the Army may be ready to order as many as a dozen of the Swifts, while the Navy plans to buy at least one more by 2007 -- K.B. Sherman