I really hate it when I actually learn something from a David Axe post.
The Navy’s Military Sealift Command has taken a lease on a container ship. The Motor Vessel Cragside was built in Denmark as a combi container ship with a Roll-On/Roll-Off capability (or Combi-RO/RO).
The U.S. Navy is quietly converting a 633-foot-long cargo ship into a secretive helicopter carrier with facilities for supporting a large contingent of Special Operations Forces and all their gear, including jet skis.
Yes, jet skis.
And here’s the really weird thing: almost nobody is talking about the new “mothership” vessel, even though it could significantly expand America’s at-sea commando footprint.
In November, Military Sealift Command—America’s quasi-civilian fleet of more than 100 specialized but lightly armed vessels—awarded an initial $73-million contract to shipping giant Maersk to convert one of its cargo ships to a so-called “Maritime Support Vessel” standard.
Maersk tapped the 30,000-ton displacement M/V Cragside, built in 2011. After enduring a legal protest by rival Crowley, in January Maersk sent Cragside to the Gulf of Mexico for military modifications, most likely at the BAE shipyard upriver in Alabama.
The contract, extendable for up to four years, could be worth up to $143 million. The militarized Cragside could deploy as early as November this year.
As container ships go, 633’ isn’t very big. But the basic layout makes it very suitable for conversion to an afloat base. Indeed, the Brits operate several very similar ships, though primarily in the logistics role.
What caught my eye in David’s post was the bit about OSVs being used. I knew MSC operated several OSVs for submarine escort. When subs leave port, say from Bangor sub base in Puget Sound, WA, they transit surfaced through some extremely busy shipping lanes. And subs are hard to spot either visually or on radar. So an escort vessel accompanies the sub until it is clear of the shipping lanes and ready to dive for its patrol.
What I didn’t know was that MSC operates three OSV’s “MV Dolores Chouest, MV C-Commando and MV C-Champion supported Naval Special Warfare Command requirements.” That’s a pretty vague description. And from the pics I’ve seen, they remain vanilla OSVs. If I had to guess, I’d say they probably support swimmer delivery vehicle operations. All of these ships are operated by civilian crews under contract with the MSC.
But the utility of OSVs bolsters my long standing argument that surplus OSVs (or converted merchants like MV Cragside) could profitably be used as tenders for forward deployed elements of the fleet. After all, that’s what the vast majority of the fleet auxiliaries in World War II were- converted merchantmen.