WASHINGTON — For the first time in decades, the Army is pursuing a new watercraft effort in a bid to prepare for operations in the Indo-Pacific theater.
“With renewed focus on the Indo-[Pacific Command Area of Operations] and the Army’s responsibilities in terms of logistics resupply, it has led to a renewed emphasis on the Army watercraft fleet,” Brig. Gen. Luke Peterson, program executive officer for combat support and combat service support, told Defense News in an interview just ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference.
The Army has not embarked on a new watercraft program since the mid-1990s, Peterson said, so “it is a pivotal time for Army watercraft.”
The service hit an important milestone on Oct. 10, when the service put its first new prototype of the Maneuver Support Vessel (Light) into the water in Portland, Oregon.
The service and manufacturer Vigor slowly walked the vessel from the manufacturing facility on dollies and worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to raise the water level so the vessel could go into an inlet to access the Columbia River.
The Army will begin testing the capability once it takes formal delivery of the vessel in February.
In 2017, the service awarded a $980 million contract to Vigor to build the new Army landing craft.
The plan is to ultimately procure 13 of the MSV(L)s, but the Army is reevaluating its delivery schedule due to supply chain challenges Vigor encountered when a vendor went into bankruptcy. Following court proceedings, the company was able to bring in a new vendor to finish up the work.
“We’re getting the program back on track, while at the same time we are evaluating the path forward,” Peterson said.
Meanwhile the Army is continuing to perform a service life extension program on its Landing Craft Utility vessels, or LCUs, used to transport equipment and troops to shore.
The service is also performing a SLEP on its Modular Causeway Systems, a bridging capability connecting a ship and a dock, and has modernized an integrated bridge system, which is now undergoing tests.
The Army is also partnered with Combined Arms Support Command and the chief of transportation on the Maneuver Support Vessel (Heavy) requirement, “which is currently in requirements and framing analysis,” Peterson said. “They are assessing what kind of capabilities a larger class vessel over the Maneuver Support Vessel (Light) may require.”
The Army is nearing completion of the draft abbreviated capabilities development, he added.
Watercraft has been integral for the service in the Pacific, Gen. Charles Flynn, U.S. Army Pacific Command commander, told Defense News in an interview at AUSA, and the new watercraft will provide greater capability.
The Army, a number of years ago, “rightfully” made an important decision to reposition watercraft out of the Middle East and into the Pacific, “so that has given us a little more capacity in the region to do it.”
Flynn said the Army has used watercraft in recent exercises like Operation Pathways to move equipment and has even delivered Patriot air and missile defense systems and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to ranges with it.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.