Navy goes Down Under, explores future of amphib warfare
Australian catamaran gives possible glimpse of  next generation gator 

Navy journalist William Polson
Posted: 09/16/00

ABOARD USS TARAWA, Western Pacific -- Lt. j.g. Kathy McMorrow was impressed with how easy it handled, while Damage Controlman Chief Keith Davis thought it was state of the art. Capt. A.D. Wall, Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five, said that with a few modifications, it will be one of the newest multi-functional innovations in amphibious warfare.

16-2-l.jpg (12818 bytes)"It" – the topic of conversation throughout the USS Tarawa (LHA-1) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) -- is the Royal Australian Navy’s catamaran HMAS Jervis Bay.

The Australian catamaran brought together the Americans and Australians, almost like two friends admiring a fast car, during the Tarawa ARG’s port visit to Darwin, Australia Sept. 7-12.

The Australians invited 150 Sailors and Marines from the Tarawa ARG for an hour-long ride off the coast of Darwin. The invitation gave the Americans a first-hand look at the capabilities of the high-speed sealift craft.

"It was really nice," said Davis, a Tarawa crewmember. "We were cutting circles in the ocean and doing turns at high speeds, and I couldn’t even feel it. It was very maneuverable."

After loading 10 Marine personnel carrier vehicles on board for the ride, the Australians played the role of hosts and entertainers, showing off the catamaran to their American guests.

Australian Petty Office Andrew "Fish" Fisher tossed out a plethora of facts during a welcome aboard brief. (For example, the four diesel engines --7,080 kilowatts each -- can drive the catamaran up to speeds of 45 knots.)

Later on, Jervis Bay’s commanding officer, Lt. Cdr. Jonathan Dudley, answered questions on the bridge. Nearby, curious Sailors and Marines roamed about, inspecting the various engineering and navigation controls on the bridge

16-1-l.jpg (16586 bytes)"We can make up to three runs a week between here (Darwin) and Dili, East Timor," Dudley told the small group gathered around him. He added that Jervis Bay’s crews have made the 430 nautical-mile route between Darwin and Dili a total of 74 times since operations started last September. "It’s really quite amazing, especially when you consider our capacity on each trip."

HMAS Jervis Bay can carry up to 500 fully equipped troops with their vehicles, including armored personnel carriers, light armored vehicles and trucks. The boat’s maximum range is approximately 1500 nautical miles, at speeds of more than 40 knots.

Dudley and his crew have repeatedly depended on Jervis Bay’s abilities to support "Operation Stablise," the effort to restore peace and stability to war-torn East Timor.

As a commanding officer faced with such turmoil, Dudley has seen the benefits of the catamaran in real world situations. "The first time we made a run into Dili, the port was totally trashed," said Dudley. "There was a lot of confusion, a lot of things strewn on the wharf, and, there were no port services. With nothing to help us, we were still able to land troops quickly. The catamaran definitely gave us a big advantage."

At least one American Sailor got a chance to experience these same controls that have helped the Australians in East Timor operations. After a quick training session, Australian Lt. Matthew Holzl turned over the helm to Tarawa’s 1st division officer Lt. j.g. McMorrow, who piloted and then docked the ship. "It was almost too easy," said McMorrow. "The boat was very responsive and the controls were easy to operate."

McMorrow may have set a precedent for U.S. Navy officers piloting these boats. The idea of using catamarans has caught the attention of the U.S. Navy, according to Capt. Stephen Morris. Morris, who came aboard Jervis Bay for the ride along with several members of the Australian Defence Force, represents the U.S. Naval Warfare Development Command (NWDC). NWDC, working in conjunction with the Naval Special Warfare Command, has initiated a program to explore the possibilities of including catamarans in intra-theater operations. "You have to look at how we will operate in the future," said Morris.

"How do we respond to the littoral warfare operations around the world? If you need to kick down the door and make a statement, then our current amphibious assault forces are definitely the way to go. However, sometimes, we want to go into a situation without causing political problems. The catamaran may be able to help us do just that. This is a very cost effective way of quickly moving troops and material."

The catamaran requires only a crew of approximately 25 people, and only a couple of days each year for maintenance and shipyard work, although it gobbles 125,000 gallons of fuel per hour.

In addition to its ability to quickly move a large amount of troops, the catamaran can hold up to 15 tanks. With modifications, it could possibly serve as a launch platform for the rigid-hulled inflatable boats used by special forces. An articulated ramp attachment eliminates the need for much of the port services required by larger ships.

"The innovative hull form, high speed, automation and minimal crew makes the fast catamaran the equivalent of a Pentium II computer dropping off on our doorstep while we’ve been working on a computer the size of a garage," said Capt. Wall, commodore of the Tarawa ARG. "It is exciting and I strongly believe the U.S. Navy should give it a thorough evaluation."

If Commodore Wall’s views find a willing ear, Jervis Bay could be the model for new U.S. Navy catamarans. Said Wall, "They could be the enabling platform for the Advanced Amphibious Attack Vehicle and Operational Maneuvers from the Sea."

-USN-