The United States Navy has a "blue water dominance" of support and warships over all navies in the world. In recent years the vision has shifted to smaller corvette and littoral-type ships, designed with multi-mission capabilities for blue water operations while being able to venture into "brown waters" close to coastlines. The HSV-2 Swift is one such vessel, a high speed, wave running catamaran owned by Sealift, Incorporated and leased out to the United States Navy Military Sealift Command. The vessel was leased out to the USN as an experimental vessel for studying possible future littoral ship designs and capabilities.
The Swift was originally built with a number of distinct design features and only later conformed to stated USN requirements - this ultimately reduced the design, development and procurement cost of the USN in commissioning such a vessel from the keep up. Her catamaran aluminum hull draws only 11 feet of water allowing her to venture close to shore while even allowing for entry into rivers and estuaries while also holding the capability to sail into deep blue water. The Swift was originally designed as an automobile ferry with a length of 331.4 feet (101.2m) and a beam width of 87.5 feet (26.7m), requiring minimal modification for military use through reinforcing the vehicle deck space to accommodate military-class vehicles. The craft is fast with a top speed of 45 knots and a cruising speed of 30 knots while being powered by 4 x Caterpillar 3618 Marine diesel-fueled engines together producing 38,600 horsepower. The Swift features no conventional propellers or shafts as propulsion is obtained through 4 x Wartsilia LIPS LJ120E water jets. The ship's propulsion system has many automated features including a docking system that allows the vessel to dock without the use of tugs even in gale force winds of 49 knots or less. Large internal fuel tanks allow her a range of 4,500 nautical miles.
For her military-minded conversion to serve Mine Warfare Command and Marine expeditionary-type role Support Ship (MCS) the Swift underwent a 12-month refit. A rear loading ramp was mounted that allowed vehicles to enter the ship (accommodations even supported one M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank. A launch area for small boats, remote-controlled mine hunting submersibles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) was added. A helo flight deck was built onto the main aft deck to support 2 x Sikorsky MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters.
The aluminum flight deck does not require non-skid paint but uses a bead-blasted finish that eliminates most maintenance needed if paint was utilized. Additional commercial aircraft-type seating was added to a passenger area that supports up to 250 combat troops. The standard crew is 35 US Navy personnel plus 17 contracted mariners for cargo handling and normal ship duties. To increase possible mission requirements, additional berthing was added for 107 and if the 250-passenger seating was further modified, additional space became available for 87 more berths on a temporary basis. The cargo and vehicle deck on the Swift sported an area space of 28,740 sq ft capable of handling 605 tons of freight or a number of vehicles as necessary.
The HSV-2 Swift, being a civilian craft at heart, was equipped with a standard suite of HF/UHF/VHF communications. When Swift was converted into her military guise, the US Navy naturally equipped her with satellite communications equipment under the package name of SATCOM. The Navy requirements called for military GPS navigation to support diverse military missions. The new state-of-the-art highly-automated navigation system upgrade allowed Swift to give up the paper navigation charts and reduce her crew requirements allowing her to run the ship with a crew of 42 personnel. Interestingly, the Swift is the only current US Navy vessel certified for complete reliance on electronic navigation. The ship's computer can track 100 ship contacts plotting speed and courses in relation to Swift's position on an easy-to-read computer screen (the age of the "Sextant" - a basic measuring instrument used to determine angles between the horizon and a celestial body - is surely coming to an end; the US Naval Academy no longer requires cadets to become certified in the use of the Sextant to add to a sailing endorsement when acquiring a Captain's Master's License).
The armament carried by Swift is primarily defensive in nature. The MH-60S Seahawk helicopter is designed to perform vertical supply replenishment (VERTREP) and search and rescue (SAR) missions. They can be used to lay naval mines and support Airborne Mine CounterMeasures (AMCM) sorties. The Swift is outfitted with a 25mm M242 Bushmaster chain gun capable of 200 to 500 rounds per minute. The projectiles of the installed 40mm Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher along with the single 40mm Mk 45 "Snake Eyes" grenade launcher can penetrate the skin of most enemy infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers. The 40mm grenade itself is highly effective against concentrations of enemy infantry through use of high-explosive or fragmentation payloads.
Submarines have used two sets of crew for many years and the experimental HSV-2 Swift follows suit by utilizing 2 x 40 groups as the only USN surface vessel with two separate mission-based crews. Marine expeditionary missions allow for 250 marines and their mission gear and vehicles to be carried and are assigned to the "GOLD" crew based out of Naval Amphibious Base of Little Creek, Virginia. Missions that are focused on mine warfare operations train with a "BLUE" crew home-ported out of Ingleside, Texas. The vessel's two CONMAR crews rotate every 90 days or so allowing the ship to be deployed as much as eleven months out of the calendar year. She can also be called to support humanitarian operations when applicably stocked with medical crews and equipment.
After her refit Swift began operations in 2003 with the USN's Fifth Fleet in Australian waters. The Navy was testing the vessel's handling and she went to set records for speed trials - averaging over 39 knots (72 km/h). Standard certification tests of launching and recovery of her Helicopters from her new flight deck proved impressive as she recovered helicopters at speeds up to 66 knots (122 km/h), a definite benefit if a quick escape was ever needed. Soon she was sent to support the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom and was positioned as a Forward Operating Base (FoB) for Marine and SEAL units in Iraqi waters (the Navy has since begun utilization of the converted USS Ponce in the same role (2012)).
In January of 2004 Swift was sent to represent the US Navy at the West African Training Cruise-04 (WATC04). Swift arrived with 100 US Marines and 50 USN sailors onboard to participate in the training exercise. The annual gathering has been a naval staple for over 30 years and intended to develop teamwork between the United States Navy and participating West African nations. African nations included in WATC were Cameroon, Ghana, Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Morocco. Swift acted as a base of operations that included exercises in river operations (using small boats) and live fire training exercises.
Swift then sailed into Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on July 5th, 2004 to participate in the "RIM of the PACific" (RIMPAC) naval exercise. Forty ships, seven submarines, 100 aircraft and 18,000 personnel converged on Pearl Harbor to represent the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea, Chile, Canada, and Japan. Swift was the talk of the event due to her cutting edge design and performance. HSV's primary focus during RIMPAC was to test the ship's ability to carry out mine hunting and working in conjunction with allied ships through coordination of missions.
The tsunami natural disaster that hit Indonesia and North Sumatra in December 2004 encouraged an international relief effort. The Swift was sent to provide logistical assistance with the international organizations and local governments. Her speed was used to good effect to bring food and medical supplies to aid the survivors.
The struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians is one of the most explosive of all the world's conflicts. In 2006 Israel and Lebanon were at war and the United States sent HSV-2 Swift to Cyprus and Beirut with medical and food supplies. She stood offshore and off loaded supplies by helicopter due to possible threats against the ship. The helicopters returned with wounded for treatment aboard the impromptu hospital.
For the next six years, Swift continued to test her capabilities in home waters and abroad (the latter when needed). Swift has since made port calls throughout Africa and has several future stops as part of the Africa Partnership Station (APS) West. The United States is a partner in the international security cooperation initiative APS. The Swift is a major player aimed at solidifying global naval joint ventures focusing on face to face training of mutual interests to improve maritime safety and security in Africa. HSV-2 Swift is a major force in APS as she continues her expanded testing of her experimental mission and design.
The "HSV" in the HSV-2 designation stands for "High Speed Vessel". The "2" marks it as the 2nd such ship behind the HSV-X1 "Joint Venture". Another related experimental ship in the group is the TSV-X1 "Spearhead".
In 2013, HSV-2 left USMC service. She then was registered under Sealift, Incorporated and served with the Republic of the Marshall Islands. She is now (2017) purportedly under lease by the United Arab Emirates flying civilian maritime colors.