Army catamaran turns a few heads in Djibouti
November 5, 2004
PORT OF DJIBOUTI, Djibouti — It looks like something Batman would drive.
The new TSV-1X brought cargo Wednesday for the troops at Camp Lemonier, but it also gave people at the dock a look at the future of the U.S. military at sea. It’s expeditionary and, in this case, it’s Army.
“At any port we go to, everybody is watching this boat,” said Sgt. Jim Lazowski of Arlington Heights, Ill., one of the navigators of the experimental, high-speed catamaran.
While the ship, named the Spearhead, is new, it already has been to war.
In March 2003, it delivered a company from the 101st Airborne Division — 157 soldiers with vehicles and gear — to Kuwait during the buildup for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“They rolled off the ship ready to go,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Patrick May, the boat’s captain. “In less than four hours, they were ready to get rolling north into Iraq.”
That’s the idea of the TSV, or theater support vessel, May said. The boats are being built to deliver whole companies intact to wherever they need to be, so they can join the fight quickly.
The Spearhead is capable of transporting one company, but future versions — 12 are scheduled to be built by 2011 — will be bigger and able to transport two full companies instead of just one, May said. They also will have landing pads for helicopters.
The current version is 320 feet long and 87 feet wide. It is jet-propelled by four, 10,000-horsepower diesel engines and reaches a top speed of 42 knots per hour. The ship is capable of carrying 800 tons of cargo and fuel.
Of course, fully loaded it takes a little longer to reach full speed, according to Staff Sgt. Paula Buckley of Denton, Texas.
She added that even though the crew sleeps four to a room, the four-inch mattresses help take the sting out of long stints at sea.
“It’s a pretty comfy ride,” Buckley said. “The waves kind of rock you to sleep.”
The crew of 32 soldiers, who belong to the 469th Transportation Detachment, is from Fort Eustis, Va. But they’re not home very often.
The Spearhead already has logged more than 110,000 miles in less than two years at sea. On its 2½-day voyage from Bahrain to Dijbouti, the ship transported a cargo hold filled with supplies, mostly food, for the troops at Camp Lemonier.
About 1,500 U.S. troops are stationed in Djibouti, a small country in eastern Africa located across a narrow strait from the Arabian Peninsula.
The strait, which connects the Suez Canal and Red Sea with the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean, is an important lane for international shipping. At 17 miles wide, it is also an ideal place for terrorists in a fast boat to cross from the Middle East in order to set up shop in Africa.
The U.S. military established a base at Camp Lemonier in May 2003. It is manned by members of the Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Spearhead is its paint job — gray with black trim and the word “Army” in big block letters. “Most people in the Army don’t think the Army has boats, let alone something like this,” May said. “It’s a very sexy looking boat.”