Superferry vs. Pirates?

April 22, 2009 

Mahalo to Mike Reitz for pointing out that this story of pirates is very deceiving and may be partially about hyping a threat in order to secure funding for the expensive Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), a prototype of which was made by Austal Corporation, the same company that made the Hawai’i Superferry and its soon to be built sisters, the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV).    The article by John Feffer gives an excellent analysis of the origins of the “pirate” problem in Somalia (they call themselves the coast guard).  It also looks at the process by which the defense contractors help to create threats that can be fixed by their product.



posted April 21, 2009 3:54 pm

Tomgram: John Feffer, The Piracy Problem

Sometimes, it seems as if all U.S. global geopolitics boils down to little more than a war for money within the Pentagon. In the best of times, each armed service still has to continually maintain and upgrade its various raisons d’être for the billions of dollars being poured into it; each has to fight — something far more difficult in economic hard times — to maintain or increase its share of the budgetary pie. The remarkable thing is that we are now in the worst of economic times and yet, for one more year, the Pentagon can still pretend that it just ain’t so. After eight years in which the Bush administration broke the bank militarily, an already vastly bloated Pentagon budget will miraculously rise once more, even if by a relatively modest 4%, in the coming fiscal year. But don’t for a second think that the Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy aren’t already scrambling for toeholds suitable for a more precarious future.

Our unchallenged imperial Navy rules the sea lanes of the planet. Its 11 aircraft carrier battle groups, those vast water-borne military bases, roam the oceans of the world without opposition. But there’s a problem. Right now, as John Feffer, co-director of the invaluable website Foreign Policy In Focus and TomDispatch regular, points out below, the American war of note is on the ground in (and in the air over) the Af-Pak theater of operations, which leaves the Navy scrambling for meaning — that is, future money.

Right now, the Army and the Marines are getting the headlines and the attention, which could mean the lion’s share of future loot, as they recalibrate based on a counterinsurgency future. (One, two, many Afghanistans…) So, thought of in naval terms, the Somali pirates — that is, an actual threat at sea — have arrived just in the nick of time, providing an excuse for a new wave of potential expenditures aimed at creating the equivalent of counterinsurgency warfare at sea. In fact, think of those pirates as just the leading edge of a wave of new naval missions involving various forms of low-intensity operations afloat: not just piracy but also “seaborne terrorism, nuclear proliferation, drug smuggling, and human trafficking” for which naval planners and boosters are already starting to beat the drums.

And of course, no new mission should lack its preferably expensive, high-tech weaponry: in this case, the Littoral Combat Ship, a mighty pile of money in a relatively small package. A third the size of a destroyer, this $500 million craft is meant to patrol the planetary shallows, even if it has so far proved a production-plagued nightmare. Nonetheless, Secretary of Defense Gates has just modestly upped the craft’s production — and there’s more to come from Navy “reformers.” Count on a new array of smaller, shallow-water vessels that could be formed into little armadas already termed by one naval officer “Influence Squadrons.”

Right now, of course, unmanned aerial drones are the hottest thing in the new Air Force counterinsurgency arsenal (and the Navy’s commissioning them as well), so how about unmanned robo-boats? Don’t worry: they’re already being considered as part of the new Navy mission. The sea’s the limit, so to speak. Tom

Monsters vs. Aliens

Why Terrorists and Pirates Are Not About to Team Up Any Time Soon

By John FefferIn the comic books, bad guys often team up to fight the forces of good. The Masters of Evil battle the Avengers superhero team. The Joker and Scarecrow ally against Batman. Lex Luthor and Brainiac take on Superman.

And the Somali pirates, who have dominated recent headlines with their hijacking and hostage-taking, join hands with al-Qaeda to form a dynamic evil duo against the United States and our allies. We’re the friendly monsters — a big, hulking superpower with a heart of gold — and they’re the aliens from Planet Amok.

In the comic-book imagination of some of our leading pundits, the two headline threats against U.S. power are indeed on the verge of teaming up. The intelligence world is abuzz with news that radical Islamists in Somalia are financing the pirates and taking a cut of their booty. Given this “bigger picture,” Fred Iklé urges us simply to “kill the pirates.” Robert Kaplan waxes more hypothetical. “The big danger in our day is that piracy can potentially serve as a platform for terrorists,” he writes. “Using pirate techniques, vessels can be hijacked and blown up in the middle of a crowded strait, or a cruise ship seized and the passengers of certain nationalities thrown overboard.”

Chaotic conditions in Somalia and other countries, anti-state fervor, the mediating influence of Islam, the lure of big bucks: these factors are allegedly pushing the two groups of evildoers into each other’s arms. “Both crimes involve bands of brigands that divorce themselves from their nation-states and form extraterritorial enclaves; both aim at civilians; both involve acts of homicide and destruction, as the United Nations Convention on the High Seas stipulates, ‘for private ends,’” writes Douglas Burgess in a New York Times op-ed urging a prosecutorial coupling of terrorism and piracy.

We’ve been here before. Since 2001, in an effort to provide a distinguished pedigree for the Global War on Terror and prove the superiority of war over diplomacy, conservative pundits and historians have regularly tried to compare al-Qaeda to the Barbary pirates of the 1800s. They were wrong then. And with the current conflating of terrorism and piracy, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Misreading Piracy

Unlike al-Qaeda, the Somali pirates have no grand desire to bring down the United States and the entire Western world. They have no intention of establishing some kind of piratical caliphate. Despite Burgess’s claims, they are not bent on homicide and destruction. They simply want money.

Most of the pirates are former fisherman dislodged from their traditional source of income by much larger pirates, namely transnational fishing conglomerates. When a crippled Somali government proved incapable of securing its own coastline, those fishing companies moved in to suck up the rich catch in local waters. “To make matters worse,” Katie Stuhldreher writes in The Christian Science Monitor, “there were reports that some foreign ships even dumped waste in Somali waters. That prompted local fishermen to attack foreign fishing vessels and demand compensation. The success of these early raids in the mid-1990s persuaded many young men to hang up their nets in favor of AK-47s.”

Despite their different ideologies — al-Qaeda has one, the pirates don’t — it has become increasingly popular to assert a link between radical Islam and the Somali freebooters. The militant Somali faction al-Shabab, for instance, is allegedly in cahoots with the pirates, taking a cut of their money and helping with arms smuggling in order to prepare them for their raids. The pirates “are also reportedly helping al-Shabab develop an independent maritime force so that it can smuggle foreign jihadist fighters and ‘special weapons’ into Somalia,” former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn has recently argued.

In fact, the Islamists in Somalia are no fans of piracy. The Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which had some rough control over Somalia before Ethiopia invaded the country in 2006, took on piracy, and the number of incidents dropped. The more militant al-Shabab, which grew out of the ICU and became an insurgent force after the Ethiopian invasion, has denounced piracy as an offense to Islam.

The lumping together of Islamists and pirates obscures the only real solution to Somalia’s manifold problems. Piracy is not going to end through the greater exercise of outside force, no matter what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman may think. (In a recent column lamenting the death of diplomacy in an “age of pirates,” he recommended a surge in U.S. money and power to achieve success against all adversaries.) Indeed, the sniper killing of three pirates by three U.S. Navy Seals has, to date, merely spurred more ship seizures and hostage-taking.

Simply escalating militarily and “going to war” against the Somali pirates is likely to have about as much success as our last major venture against Somalia in the 1990s, which is now remembered only for the infamous Black Hawk Down incident. Rather, the United States and other countries must find a modus vivendi with the Islamists in Somali to bring the hope of political order and economic development to that benighted country.

Diplomacy and development, however lackluster they might seem up against a trio of dead-eyed sharpshooters, are the only real hope for Somalia and the commercial shipping that passes near its coastline.

From the Shores of Tripoli

It would have been the height of irony if the sharpshooters who took out the three Somali youths in that lifeboat with their American hostage had been aboard the USS John Paul Jones, a Navy guided-missile destroyer. Considered the father of the American Navy, Jones was quite the pirate in his day. Or so thought the British, whose ships he seized and looted.

We are left instead with the lesser irony of the sharpshooters taking aim from the USS Bainbridge. This ship was named for Commodore William Bainbridge, who fought against the Barbary pirates in the battles of Algiers and Tunis during the Barbary Wars and was himself taken prisoner in 1803.

The parallels between the pirates of yesterday and today are striking. Then, as now, American observers miscast the pirates as Muslim radicals. In fact, as Frank Lambert explains in his book The Barbary Wars, those pirates actually served secular governments that were part of the Ottoman Empire (much as Sir Francis Drake plundered Spanish ships on behalf of Queen Elizabeth in the sixteenth century or Jones served the United States in the eighteenth). Then, as now, the pirates resorted to preying on commercial shipping because they’d been boxed out of legitimate trade.

The Barbary pirates took to looting European vessels because European governments had barred the states of Algiers, Tripoli, and Morocco from trading in their markets. Back then, the fledgling United States accused the Barbary pirates of being slavers without acknowledging that the U.S. was then the center of the global slave trade. Today, the U.S. government decries piracy, but doesn’t do anything to prevent the maritime poaching of fishing reserves that helped push pirates from their jobs into risky but lucrative careers in freebooting.

The most improbable link, however, involves the conflation of terrorism and piracy. In the aftermath of September 11, pundits and historians identified the U.S. military response to the Barbary pirates as a useful precedent for striking out against al-Qaeda. Shortly after the attacks, law professor Jonathan Turley invoked the war against the Barbary pirates in congressional testimony to justify U.S. retaliation against the terrorists. Historian Thomas Jewett, conservative journalist Joshua London, and executive director of the Christian Coalition of Washington State Rick Forcier all pointed to those pirates as Islamic radicals avant la lettre to underscore the impossibility of negotiations and the necessity of war, both then and now.

The battle against the Barbary pirates led to the creation of the U.S. Marine Corps (“…to the shores of Tripoli“) and the first major U.S. government expenditure of funds on a military that could fight distant wars. For historians like Robert Kagan (in his book Dangerous Nation), that war kicked off what would be a distinguished history of empire, which he contrasts with the conventional wisdom of a United States that only reluctantly assumed its hegemonic mantle.

Will the current conflict with the Somali pirates, if successfully linked in the public mind to global terrorism, serve as one significant part of a new justification for the continuation of empire and a whole new set of military expenditures needed to sustain such a venture?

The New GWOT?

The United States has the most powerful navy in the world. But what it can do against the Somali pirates is limited. Big guns and destroyers are incapable of covering the necessary vast ocean expanses in which the relatively low-tech pirates operate, can’t respond quickly enough to pin-prick attacks, and ultimately aren’t likely to intimidate what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has quite correctly termed “a bunch of teenage pirates” with little to lose.

“The area we patrol is more than one million square miles and the simple fact of the matter is we just can’t be everywhere at once to prevent every attack of piracy,” says Lt Nathan Christensen, of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. Last year, approximately 23,000 ships passed through the Gulf of Aden. Pirates snagged 93 of them (some large, some tiny). Yet, in part because these trade routes are so crucial to global economic wellbeing, this minuscule percentage struck fear into the hearts of the most powerful countries on the planet.

The failure of the U.S. Navy to stamp out piracy has led to predictable calls for more resources. For instance, to deal with nimble, low-intensity threats like the speedy pirates, the Pentagon is looking at Littoral Combat Ships instead of another several-billion-dollar destroyer. The Navy is planning to purchase 55 of these ships, which, at $450-$600 million each, will come in at around $30 billion, a huge sum for a project plagued with costs overruns and design problems. With the ground (and air) war heating up in Afghanistan and the CIA in charge of operations in Pakistan, the Navy is understandably trying to keep up with the other services. The Navy’s goal of a 313-ship force, which boosters champion regardless of cost, can only be reached by appealing to a threat comparable to terrorists on land. Why not the functional equivalent of terrorists at sea?

Pirates are the perfect threat. They’ve been around forever. They directly interfere with the bottom line, so the business community is on board. Unlike China, they don’t hold any U.S. Treasury Bonds. Indeed, since they’re non-state actors, we can bring virtually every country onto our side against them.

And, finally, the Pentagon is already restructuring itself to meet just such a threat. Through its “revolution in military affairs,” the adoption of a doctrine of “strategic flexibility,” and the cultivation of rapid-response forces, the Pentagon has been gearing up to handle the asymmetrical threats that have largely replaced the more fixed and predictable threats of the Cold War era, and even of the “rogue state” era that briefly followed. The most recent Gates military budget, with its move away from outdated Cold War weapons systems toward more limber forces, fits right in with this evolution. Canceling the F-22 stealth fighter aircraft and cutting money from the Missile Defense Agency in favor of more practical systems is certainly to be applauded. But the Pentagon isn’t about to hold a going-out-of-business sale. The new Obama defense budget will actually rise about 4%.

George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror, or GWOT, turned out to be a useful way for the Pentagon to get everything it wanted: an extraordinary increase in spending and capabilities after 2001. With GWOT officially retired and an unprecedented federal deficit looming, the Pentagon and the defense industries will need to trumpet new threats or else face the possibility of a massive belt-tightening that goes beyond the mere shell-gaming of resources.

The War on Terror lives on, of course, in the Obama administration’s surge in Afghanistan, the CIA’s campaign of drone attacks in the Pakistani borderlands, and the operations of the new Africa Command. However, the replacement phrase for GWOT, “overseas contingency operations,” doesn’t quite fire the imagination. It’s obviously not meant to. But that’s a genuine problem for the military in budgetary terms.

Enter the pirates, who from Errol Flynn to Johnny Depp have always been a big box-office draw. As the recent media hysteria over the crew of the Maersk Alabama indicates, that formula can carry over to real life. Take Johnny Depp out of the equation and pirates can simply be repositioned as bizarre, narcotics-chewing aliens.

Then it’s simply a matter of the United States calling together the coalition of the willing monsters to crush those aliens before they take over our planet. And you thought “us versus them” went out with the Bush administration…

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. His writings can be found at his website, and you can subscribe to his weekly e-newsletter World Beat here.

Conspiracy ferry

March 25, 2009 

Conspiracy ferry

Did we get taken for a ride by Hawai‘i Superferry?

Christopher Pala
Mar 25, 2009

Hawai‘i’s Superferry ended its choppy ride last week, leaving tantalizing clues, but no proof, that the whole venture was about more than providing “reliable commercial service in these islands,” as CEO Thomas B. Fargo insisted at his dawn press conference.

“You look at the players involved, you have to question their motives, there are some pretty significant defense contracts involved,” said Rep. Hermina Morita, who chairs the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee.

The defense contracts come in two categories.

First, the construction of the two ferries by Austal USA helped the young company get a contract to build a military version of the fast cargo and troop-transport ship-with an option for nine others-for a total of $1.6 billion, according to defense analysts and Austal USA itself. It also played a role in getting a contract for a Littoral Combat Ship prototype, a separate project to build up to 50 fast, aluminum warships at more than twice the price for each. The question is: was that the real purpose of building the Superferry?

Second, there are the ferries themselves. Now that the Hawai‘i Supreme Court has freed them of any obligation to serve the Islands, which has proved to be a money-losing operation, are they going to fetch a better price elsewhere? If they do, was that the main point for building them and bringing them here?

Austal and INCAT are the two giants of the big, fast aluminum catamaran business that have been supplying the world market for decades from their shipyards in Australia. Unlike most countries, the United States can’t buy foreign vessels for internal or military use: the Jones Act specifies they must be built domestically. So to crack the American market, Austal and INCAT needed to set up shipyards in the United States. Austal USA set up shop in Mobile, Ala., in 2001 and INCAT partnered with Bollinger Shipyards, Inc. in South Lockport, La., both with their eye on a contract for a military version of the Superferry.

By the summer of 2004, when work started on the first Superferry, Austal USA had built eight ships, all smaller than the Superferry. “Bollinger/Incat [USA] was a credible threat,” Bill Pfister, VP for external relations at Austal USA, said in a telephone interview from Mobile. “Building the Superferry was very helpful in demonstrating that we can build these ships in the United States as well as Australia, it was a major part of our credibility, almost a prerequisite,” he said. “It allowed us to build up the work force and the facilities.” Once the first Superferry was finished, that work force moved to the Littoral Combat Ship prototype, he said. And last November, as work was ending on the second Superferry, the Huakai, Austal beat Bollinger/Incat USA for the contract for the military version of the Superferry, called the Joint High Speed Vessel-essentially a Superferry with a helipad in the back.

In an interview together last year, Tig Krekel, vice chairman and partner of J.F. Lehman & Company, an investment bank in New York, and John Garibaldi, a former Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines executive who was CEO of Hawai‘i Superferry when it launched service, described how Garibaldi, Tim Dick and Terry White started the project together, financing it out of their savings until early 2004, when they raised $3.3 million. In September 2004, Lehman & Company took over the company and its principal, John F. Lehman, signed a deal to provide $85 million for the first Superferry.

“The ship started being built in summer of ’04, basically on spec,” Garibaldi said. “It was done on verbal assurances from Lehman and me that we would not leave them with the ship.” By the fall of 2005, Krekel said, Lehman was chairman of the board and the Maritime Administration was ready to guarantee $140 million of the $185 million loan.

Garibaldi said the shipyard had started building the ship “on spec” because the project’s financial success was so obvious “it was a no-brainer.” Krekel added, “We expect service to grow to five ships, the market’s there.”

But Alan Lerchbacker, the founding CEO of Austal USA, painted a different picture in an interview in Honolulu with Pacific Business News published on January 19, 2007, the same week Hawai‘i Superferry took delivery of the Alakai.

“I just worry about getting enough business to cover costs because of the sheer size of it,” he was quoted as saying. “They may need 400 to 500 passengers to break even.” Indeed, Hawai‘i Superferry executives had said the financial break-even point lay at 50 percent capacity, or 143 cars and 433 passengers, which the Superferry rarely attained.

Lerchbacker said he had suggested a 220-foot vessel, but the company chose the 326-foot model-and then another one of 344 feet.

Still unclear is whether Austal started building the Alakea “on spec” because it was the perfect way to prove its mettle to the military procurement community or because it believed that whatever the Hawai‘i plan’s merit, the ship itself would be attractive to the military. Also opaque is J.F. Lehman & Co.’s financial interest in Austal’s success. Atlantic Marine, which the company purchased recently and has a shipyard that adjoins Austal’s in Mobile, works with steel ships and “has no connection to Austal,” said Tim Colton, a shipping analyst in Florida.

The second kind of military contract that may be involved has to do with what would happen if the Superferries fail in their mission to make money in Hawai‘i or are prevented from operating by the courts.

On Thursday, Superferry CEO Fargo said, “We’re going to have to go out and find other employment for Alakai.” He added, “There are other ferry operations that would like to expand their service. Certainly the military may very well want to lease this particular ship.”

In July, BYM Marine and Maritime News reported, “Austal was recently awarded a new contract to provide additional features and equipment on the second Hawaii Superferry to facilitate its use by the military. This follows on from the long-term charter, since 2001, of the Austal-built 308-foot vehicle-passenger catamaran WestPac Express by the III Marine Expeditionary Force based on Okinawa, Japan.”

Pfister, the Austal vice-president, sidestepped in an e-mail exchange the question of whether a contract had been signed with the military to lease the Huakai. He explained that modification in question is a ramp that allows the ship to discharge cargo pretty much anywhere. It’s not usually used in civilian service because it’s heavy and cuts the number of cars by about 20 to 25, he wrote.

Lori Abe, a spokeswoman for Hawai‘i Superferry, said the ramp was added for use in the Big Island and that BYM is wrong.

Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va., said leasing the superferries to the military would be difficult to pull off. “Leasing military equipment is not popular in Congress,” he said. Another analyst, who asked to remain anonymous, added: “Tolerance for leasing rather than buying ran out. Another lease now could be a hard sell.”

But Colton, the analyst, said that if anyone can pull it off, it’s Lehman. The Navy secretary in the entire Reagan administration who famously advocated a 600-ship navy (from about 500) was a major adviser and fund-raiser for John McCain and was seen as his likely his chief of staff. “He’s much better positioned than anyone else to get these boats leased,” Colton said.

While we may never learn what interest Lehman had in helping Austal get the military contracts, the value of the two civilian superferries should soon become apparent.

If Lehman fails to lease them out and stops servicing the loan, the federal maritime administration, the loan’s guarantor, would have to take over the ships and likely sell them to the Navy. That could trigger headlines like “Feds Bail Out Another Well-Connected Fatcat.”

And there would be some irony in Obama’s Navy bailing out one of his most powerful opponents.


Littoral Combat Ship and Joint High Speed Vessel

February 9, 2009 

Brad Parson’s sent out a post with lots of information about the Joint High Speed Vessel (Navy transport vessel research and development program, for which the Hawai’i Superferry was a prototype) and the Littoral Combat Ship (a futuristic shallow water combat ship that was supposed to revolutionize the Navy’s capabilities).


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Excellent links on LCS and JHSV in Australian Professor’s post today

Australian National University Lecturer Tom Worthington had another good post today comparing JHSV to LCS. There seem to be a number of articles doing that recently. Worthington previously posted back in 2005 some of the first entries on the Internet regarding the Australian designed Chinese Navy’s Type 022 Houbei Class offensive catamaran, what I call the Houbei Class “Hellcat.”

In particular Worthington cites two nice new links. One is an article from the January issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings, see: “Checkered Past, Uncertain Future” by Commander Otto Kreisher, U.S. Navy Reserve (Retired) in Proceedings U.S. NAVAL INSTITUTE, January 2009. The article by Otto Kreisher is excellent, one of a kind reporting on the LCS, therefore I will not be reposting it. Anybody wanting to understand LCS, JHSV, and the troubled concept of developing military vessels from commercial aluminium vessels should click over to there and read that article.

I will point out, though, just one mistake that I noticed Mr. Kreisher made in the above Proceedings article. Kreisher wrote, “General Dynamics’ LCS-2, called the Independence, is based on the ferry design seen in the High-Speed Vessel Swift (HSV-2) that the U.S. military has been leasing.” This is incorrect. LCS-2 is based on the commercial design of Benchijigua Express (An Auto Express 127 high speed vehicle-passenger trimaran ferry Video Available), a fast ferry that has been slicing through Canary Island waters with unique size, speed, and momentum.

The other good link that Worthington provides are some newly available graphics on the JHSV-1 design. Those are here and here. They are still leaving out disclosure of any significant changes to the hull design that may be contemplated regarding seakeeping deficiencies.


Sunday, February 8, 2009
“Australian design selected for U.S. Military Transport Ships”
The design from West Australian based Austal has been selected by the US Department of Defence for the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), worth around US$1.6 billion, if all ten ships are built. The aluminium 103-metre ship design is derived from that of Austal’s car ferries, one of which, the “WestPac Express” was leased to the US Marines. Austral’s main rival is also Australian: Incat of Hobart, who have also leased ships to the US military. One reason for Australia’s success in building such ships is expertise in welding aluminium.

The JHSV ships will be built in Mobile, Alabama, USA, not in Australia. These vessels are likely to be less controversial than the Littoral Combat Ship, USS Independence (LCS 2), being completed by Austal. The Independence was due for sea trials in early 2009. But both it and the competing design from Lockeed Martin (USS Freedom LCS1) have had problems with delays and cost overruns. See: “Checkered Past, Uncertain Future” By Commander Otto Kreisher, U.S. Navy Reserve (Retired) in Proceedings U.S. NAVAL INSTITUTE, January 2009.
Unlike the complex weapons and sensors used in the LCS ships, the JHSVs are more basic conversions of civilian transport ship design. Also the role of the transport ships is less controversial. This raises the interesting possibility of using the JHSVs for some of the roles envisaged for the LCSs… posted by Tom Worthington

Aloha, Brad

U.S.S. Superferry?

January 16, 2008

U.S.S. Superferry?

Unwitting Hawai’i residents may be getting a military ship in civilian camo

By Joan Conrow
Jan 16, 2008

Hawai’i Superferry-now running (weather permitting) between O’ahu and Maui, thanks to a gubernatorial and legislative override of a State Supreme Court ruling-has been officially touted as a way to bring ‘ohana together and provide a transportation alternative.

However, in light of the U. S. Navy’s current push to quickly expand its fleet with a new type of fast and versatile vessel, Hawai’i Superferry (HSF)-chaired by former Navy Secretary and 9/11 Commission member John F. Lehman-may also be using Hawaiian waters to demonstrate the performance of its Austal USA catamaran, the Alakai, and prove its efficacy for military purposes.

At stake are U.S. defense contracts potentially worth billions, and possible sales to foreign navies, according to a defense industry consultant in San Diego who asked not to be named. The Superferry is being tested in Hawai’i to qualify the design for military contracts and also for sale to the navies of India and Indonesia, the consultant said.

The Navy is seeking to develop two new types of crafts: the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV). Both crafts are intended to be smaller, faster and more versatile than existing naval ships. They are specifically designed to operate in both the open ocean and the shallow near-shore, or littoral, waters of nations the Pentagon views as emerging threats, such as China.

The Superferry is very similar in design and specifications to the Sea Fighter, the only LCS prototype that has been launched and gone through sea trials, and the Westpac Express, one of two demonstration JHSV currently in use. Among the Superferry’s virtues is its versatility, which makes it a contender for both the LCS and JHSV initiatives. U.S. Navy and Army representatives have toured the Alakai throughout its construction as part of the ongoing evaluation of potential JHSV platforms, according to a June 2007 announcement about HSF’s sea trials on Austal USA’s website.

Lehman already has spoken publicly about the company’s plans to run military equipment and personnel from O’ahu to the Big Island in much the same manner that the Westpac Express ferry serves the Marine Corps in the Western Pacific. The logistical plan was touted as a faster and cheaper way for soldiers stationed on O’ahu to train on the Big Island when the Stryker Brigade comes to Hawai’i. ‘The Superferry is strong enough to take Stryker vehicles,’ Lehman told Pacific Business News (PBN) in March 2005. ‘HSF provided the Army with a cost analysis and expects to negotiate a long-term contract,’ PBN reported. On Jan. 7 of this year, HSF carried Hawai’i National Guard heavy equipment to Maui for removal of storm debris.

While providing passenger and cargo service between O’ahu and Maui, the Superferry’s owners are able to conduct sea trials aimed at demonstrating the high-speed craft’s endurance and performance in rough open seas and littoral waters. Its need to quickly accrue time in the water could explain why HSF plans to offer a second daily run to Maui, even though it’s presently carrying only a third of the passenger load it projected, according to documents filed with the state Public Utilities Commission.

While using Hawaiian waters as a proving ground, HSF has been able to develop and test its prototype vessel with little financial risk to investors, thanks to a federally guaranteed loan of $143 million that covers much of the $190 million cost to build the two fast ferries, and $40 million in state support for related harbor projects.

Meanwhile, the state’s controversial decision to allow the ferry to run while a full Environmental Impact Statement is being conducted-a process that could take up to two years-effectively ensured the vessel would be operational in time to compete for a JHSV design contract that will be awarded later this year, as well as for LCS design contracts two years later. ‘In an accelerated procurement environment, it would give [Congressional appropriations] committees great comfort in granting money for something up and running,’ said an O’ahu-based legislative insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Big plans ahead

The procurement environment is indeed heating up. Over the next five years, the Navy plans to buy eight JHSV, which also will be used by the Army and Marine Corps. Not envisioned as combat ships, these crafts would be used to quickly transport several hundred troops and their equipment across the open sea. They’re also expected to be able to operate in shallow waters and access harbors without relying on tugboats, piers and cargo cranes.

‘Will it [the JHSV] have other abilities? Of course, but the high-speed transportation requirement is the heart of this program,’ Capt. Patricia M. Sudol, the Navy’s program manager for support ships, boats and craft and the officer in charge of the Navy-led joint acquisition program, told the Weekly in an interview. Sudol said the Navy envisions the JHSV as a modified version of existing commercial high-speed ship designs, which means it won’t have to meet the rigid construction and self-defense standards required for warships. For that reason, the vessels are projected to be relatively low cost, with the first one targeted at $150 and the remaining seven at $130 million each. One firm will be chosen to produce all eight JHSV, she said.

The Navy also wants to acquire 55 LCS by 2013, a goal that is already three years behind schedule, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Lara Bollinger said in a press release. These vessels are intended to operate close to shore, hunting submarines and destroying underwater mines. They also could serve as offshore platforms from which to launch helicopter attacks and other missions on land, and recover the inflatable combat boats used by special operations forces.

The LCS program is a key element of the Navy’s strategy to expand its fleet. A Sept. 13, 2007 article in The Washington Post quotes Navy spokesman Capt. John T. Schofield as saying the ships are ‘needed to fill critical, urgent war-fighting gaps.’

But cost overruns are mounting on the two LCS prototype vessels currently under construction, and performance problems plague the Sea Fighter, the only demonstration LCS that has hit the water.

The LCS prototypes, by General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin-initially slated to cost $220 million each, now are expected to come in at a combined total of more than $600 million. Early last year the Navy asked Congress to allow the tab for the second two ships to go as high as $460 million each. But the Senate appropriations committee balked and cut funding for the program, citing delays, design changes and cost overruns of more than 50 percent. ‘The Navy’s littoral combat ship has suffered from significant cost increases and has had to be restructured by the Secretary of the Navy,’ Hawai’i Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, chairman of the Appropriations defense subcommittee, told The Washington Post. As a result, the Navy cancelled contracts for the second two ships.

The Sea Fighter, the other LCS contender, has been developed by San Diego-based Titan Corp. under an exclusive $59.9 million contract from the Navy’s Office of Naval Research. U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of San Diego, former Chairman and now Ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, secured funding for the vessel’s design and construction because ‘deployment of the Sea Fighter can demonstrate and validate many of the Navy’s operational concepts for littoral warfare, and more specifically reduce risk in the Littoral Combat Ship program,’ according to an announcement on the Congressman’s website.

The Sea Fighter, a high-speed, shallow draft catamaran, is made of aluminum, like the Superferry, and the two crafts are eerily similar in size, design and performance characteristics. In addition, both the Sea Fighter and Superferry, like the craft leased to the JHSV program, were built to commercial standards, in response to the military’s move toward using ‘off the shelf’ technology. This approach allows the Navy to use commercial high-speed vessel training courses for the crew, thus allowing the ship to proceed directly from new construction to deployment, according to a US Navy website.

In effect, the Sea Fighter presented a less-expensive LCS surrogate with which to test various operational aspects of the program. It was launched in February 2005 and formally accepted by the Navy in July 2005 after successfully completing sea trials. But the vessel has since been repeatedly dry-docked due to problems with its propulsion system, and has a worrisome tendency to ‘fish-tail’ under certain conditions. Additionally, Nichols Brothers, the Washington State company that built the Sea Fighter, shut down last November, citing financial problems and a pending lawsuit.
Risky business bargains

Some Navy officials have expressed fears that Hunter and other lawmakers might consider the smaller Sea Fighter design an acceptable substitute for the larger and far more costly Littoral Combat Ships. And if LCS costs keep rising, officials say, that could be a valid concern. ‘So the issue will be, can the Navy continue to do more with less,’ Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., a senior member of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, told the Weekly in a recent interview. ‘There is real skepticism in Congress at this time,’ Dicks said.

But Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., chairman of the House Armed Services Projection Forces Subcommittee, said during a committee hearing last year that, rather than replacing the LCS, the Sea Fighter would be a ‘bargain’ ship that could ‘easily operate alongside the LCS and provide our fleet force structure with an increased complexity making our future … Navy less vulnerable to the enemy,’ he said.

Hunter’s list of 30 funding initiatives for 2008 contains just one endorsement-for the Sea Fighter. Attributed to HSF Chairman John Lehman, it states: ‘This kind of innovative ship, built with commercial off-the-shelf technology, is the future of an affordable surface Navy.’

In addition to investing a $58 million equity capital in the Hawai’i Superferry project, J.F. Lehman & Company-a New York-based private equity firm led by its namesake-has been making acquisitions that could support LCS and JHSV contracts. These include Atlantic Marine Holding Company, a leading provider of repair, overhaul and maintenance services for commercial seagoing vessels and U.S. Navy ships. The company owns and operates two strategically located shipyards in Jacksonville, Fla., and Mobile, Ala., and leases a third facility at the Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville.

Hawai’i Superferry’s military objectives-and the value of its heavyweight connections -may not be known for certain until the Navy awards the JHSV contract sometime this year and Congress decides how much it’s willing to pay for the LCS program. But if Lehman’s canny prediction, two years ago, that the ferry would affect a paradigm shift in the way business is conducted in Hawai’i is any indication, he and his company know exactly where things are headed.

Four of the six members of the Hawai’i Superferry (HSF) Board of Directors have strong ties to the Navy and defense industries.

They include its chairman, John Lehman, the former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan. Lehman is a founding partner of J.F. Lehman and Company, which acquires maritime, defense and aerospace companies and invested $58 million equity capital in HSF. See [].

Lead Director Tig Krekel, currently vice chairman of J.F. Lehman, is the former president and CEO of Hughes Space and Communications and past president of Boeing Satellite Systems. Krekel, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, served as an aide in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon.

Director George A. Sawyer, a founding partner of J.F. Lehman, is former assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy, Shipbuilding & Logistics. He was also a submarine engineer officer in the U.S. Navy, and is a member of the American Society of Naval Engineers and the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers.

Director John W. ‘Bill’ Shirley is former program manager of the U.S. Department of Energy, Naval Reactors Division, Seawolf and Virginia Class Submarines. He has 34 years of experience in senior positions at the Navy Division of Naval Reactors. Shirley now works as a private consultant, giving preference to J.F. Lehman Partners.

Two of the remaining six directors-C. Alexander Harman and Louis N. Mintz-are employed by J.F. Lehman.

Source: [] and Pacific Business News ([]). -J.C.