September 9, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Austal Rolls Out First Joint High-speed Vessel

MOBILE -- The tip of the Spearhead emerged Thursday, followed by the rest of it.

Austal USA rolled its first joint high-speed vessel, the future USNS Spearhead, out of the shed where it was being put together onto a dry dock floating in the Mobile River. The high-speed transport was floated down to BAE Systems, where it is scheduled to be put into the water Sunday.

Austal spokesman Craig Hooper said that the ship is almost 90 percent complete and is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy early next year, a delay from the previously announced goal of December. After being launched from the dry dock, tugs will tow the Spearhead back upriver to Austal, where it will be completed and readied for sea trials this fall, first by the Australian-owned shipyard and then by the Navy.

"Launch is an event that signifies a high level of readiness," Joe Rella, president and chief operating officer of Austal USA, said in a statement. "The incident-free roll-out today reflects extremely well on the Austal JHSV team."

Spearhead is scheduled to be christened Sept. 17. It is the first JHSV in a $1.6 billion, 10-ship contract awarded to Austal in 2008. The Navy ultimately wants dozens more. Along with the littoral combat ship, the transport work is a cornerstone of Austal's expansion. The shipyard already has 2,300 workers, making it the largest industrial employer in southwest Alabama.

The ship emerged from the bay where it was welded together much faster than when Austal launched its first littoral combat ship. That's because the shipbuilder changed the way it was moved. Instead of welding together rails and moving the vessel on railroad wheels, Austal used the same transporters it employs to haul prefabricated sections of ships from its module manufacturing facility to the assembly bay.

The twin hulls of Spearhead rested on ship stands in the assembly shed, and were lifted by the heavy-duty transporters, including a number that Austal rented just for the roll-out. The wheeled vehicles then drove out a ramp onto BAE's dry dock 17 and set the ship stands down. The operation moved much more quickly than the rail method, with the dry dock pushing off for BAE by early afternoon.

Austal started work on the catamaran in December 2009, ceremonially laying the keel in July. The lightly armored ship has much in common with high-speed ferries that Austal has built for civilian use, both in Mobile and Australia.

The JHSV can carry soldiers and cargo at an average speed of 40 mph, and when it arrives, vehicles will be able to roll off even in shallow-water ports with minimal facilities. The non-combat vessel, which Rella has called the "pickup truck of the sea," will replace smaller, slower transports used by the military.

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