“I’ve been in the unique position of being involved in
the USNS Spearhead maiden deployment last year, and
again this year, in support of APS. Naval Forces Africa,
under the direction of AFRICOM [U.S. Africa
Command], has also executed the Express series exercises for engagement in Africa. USNS Spearhead has participated in two of those four exercises for the past two years.
“The first, Obangame Express, primarily involves the
Gulf of Guinea nations, and the second one, Saharan
Express, involves our Western Africa partners. We’ve conducted real-world AMLEP operations with some of our
Western Africa and Gulf of Guinea partners under the
control of my counterpart here in Naples, the commander
of CTF- 65 [Task Force 65]. We also have a series of theater security cooperation events,” he said.
According to Rinko, the JHSV is a unique platform.
“It’s a fast, highly maneuverable, multimission platform, designed to support naval operations in austere
environments,” he said. “She’s designed as a logistics
ship to execute intra-theater lift. And she does that
mission very well.
“We can put together and embark a variety of adaptive
force packages that can execute across several mission sets,
and have been experimenting over the last two years to
evaluate her ability to conduct mission sets in several areas
outside of her primary intra-theater lift capacity, including
VBSS [visit, board, search and seizure] and MIO [maritime
interdiction operations]; her ability
to serve as an afloat staging base and
a command and control node; conduct signals intelligence and persistent ISR [intelligence, surveillance,
reconnaissance] coverage; as well as
theater security cooperation. We
were able to look at all those in 2014
and build on that experience this
year,” he said.
“Although her primary mission
is intra-theater lift, her capacity to
embark forces to execute across
several mission areas makes her a
valuable asset, especially for
engagement down in Africa, with
our African partners in the Gulf of
Guinea region,” Rinko said.
JHSV combines the virtues of
speed, volume and flexibility.
According to Spearhead’s master,
CAPT James Regan, the ship is an
intermediate connector designed for
intra-theater transportation of a load
equivalent to 10 C-130 aircraft.
“Spearhead’s primary mission is
to transport 312 troops and their
associated stock and weapons,” he said. “Beyond that
primary mission, we have been testing and developing
the platform for interdiction operations, ISR, disaster
relief and use as a small rapid-response mobile hospital.”
Adaptive force packages can be constituted as required
and packed in containers that can be easily brought
aboard JHSV’s mission deck, where there is power and
network connectivity. With the adaptive force packages,
she can execute more than one mission at the same time.
And can carry lots of people if she has to.
“She’s designed to carry 312 people for 1,200 nautical
miles at 35 knots to deliver forces where they need to be,
when they need to be. She has a 26-man civilian mariner
crew that operates the ship itself. We have 104 racks
onboard for personnel being moved for a nominal 72-
hour embark. We can augment berthing with container-
ized living units that can be carried in the mission
spaces,” said CDR Matthew Flemming, the military
officer-in-charge and APS mission commander.
Obangame Express is a major exercise that involved
23 countries this year.
“The objectives of the exercises are to enhance the
ability to perform maritime security operations and
increase regional cooperation and information sharing.
We had plenty of liaison officers from the different
countries operating inside the maritime operations centers across the Gulf of Guinea nations,” Rinko said.
A Ghanaian military member stands by as the Military Sealift Command joint
high-speed vessel USNS Spearhead moors at Sekondi Naval Base, Ghana, on
Feb. 24 after completing operations during Africa Maritime Law Enforcement
Partnership 2015. Spearhead was on a scheduled deployment to the U.S.
Sixth Fleet area of responsibility in support of the international collaborative
capacity-building program Africa Partnership Station.