The 331 foot (101 metre) “WestPac Express” has completed its first year of operation, proving to be a reliable, faster and more cost-effective alternative to air transport for the movement of troops and their equipment. This Austal (Australia) built aluminum catamaran, is now serving the US Military Sealift Command. The ship has a range of 1,250 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots (over 40mph) while carrying 440 short tons (400 tonnes) of payload in addition to the fuel for the voyage.
Having traveled in excess of 85,000 nautical miles at an operational availability rate of practically 100%, “WestPac Express” is now also playing an important role in the development process for future advanced vessel concepts for military use. The Carderock Division of the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWCCD) has been tasked to conduct a range of propulsion, fuel economy and seakeeping trials on the vessel. This information will provide baseline technical data for the wider Theatre Support Vessels (TSV) program and establish performance thresholds against which future advanced vessel concepts can be compared.Staff from NSWCCD, which is the US Navy's center of excellence for ships and ship systems, visited “WestPac Express” in Japan recently for the purposes of installing specialized testing equipment to monitor the vessel’s performance.
While “WestPac Express” was built in Australia, it is likely that the US military’s long-term requirements for similar high speed vessels will be met from the purpose-built shipyard Austal established in Mobile, Alabama in 1999 in a partnership with Bender Shipbuilding & Repair.