WASHINGTON – The Maritime Administration has inked a deal for two more training ships for its prospective Merchant Marine officers in a move that could provide the Navy with a suitable hull for special mission auxiliary ships in the future.

MARAD contracted for two additional National Security Multi-Mission Vessels, adding on to the two it purchased last year. The ships are destined for use at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine, and Texas A&M Maritime Academy in Galveston, Texas.

The contract, announced Jan. 19, with Philly Shipyard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is worth approximately $600 million. If the last ship is contracted, it would bring the total buy to $1.5 billion, according to the marine trade publication gCaptain.

The NMSVs are also national assets that can be used in humanitarian assistance missions, can accommodate up to 1,000 people and includes a modern medical facility.

The vessels could also prove useful in the Navy’s quest to identify a flexible hull that can meet a series of missions as it seeks to replace its aging logistics fleet, Sal Mercogliano, a former merchant mariner and maritime historian at Campbell University, told Defense News last year.

“Those vessels serve as a potential hull form for maybe a hospital ship, maybe a command ship, an aviation logistics ship, a sub tender: There’s potential there,” Mercogliano said.

Questions remain around how the Navy will replace some of its special mission ships, such as the aging hospital ships, and the NMSV is worthy of consideration.

For moving lots of tanks and howitzers across long distances, the NSMV isn’t well-suited. But for many of the other missions the Navy needs to recapitalize, including its hospital ships, it could prove useful.

“I don’t think they’d be good for a roll-on/roll-off — it’s not designed for a large mission bay,” Mercogliano said. “But I think for the hospital ship, a command ship, there’s a lot of utility there.”