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The Army and Navy are teaming up to buy a fleet of high-speed ships capable of transporting everything from heavy equipment to humanitarian supplies, according to a Defense Department news release.

The ships are capable of carrying 700 tons at speeds of about 35 knots for 1,200 nautical miles, according to the release. In addition, the nearly 340-foot-long Joint High Speed Vessels would be able to transport M1 Abrams tanks, operate in shallow waters and have seating for up to 312 troops.

The Army has procured two of the ships — named the Fortitude and Spearhead — while the Navy has procured one ship, to be known as the Vigilant.

The first vessel could hit the seas as early as November 2011.

In the release, the DOD indicated that it is looking to purchase 10 of the ships from the Mobile, Ala.-based Austal USA. The total cost of the contract would be $1.6 billion.

Each ship could be launched six months after the previous vessel enters service, and the first one will be built for the Army, said Bill Pfister, Austal USA’s vice president for external affairs. Each ship is being built out of lightweight aluminum.

"If you want to go fast, you want to go light," Pfister said.

Another feature is the catamaran hull, which displaces less water, allowing it to go faster, Pfister said.

The closest vessels the Navy has to the JHSV are two ships it has been leasing for two or three years, Navy spokesman Lt. Clay Doss said.

"There is a move to try to get more of those leases until we build these ships," he said.

The Navy envisions the ships being used for humanitarian missions, getting supplies and equipment to an area quickly and for building partnerships with other navies, similar to what the Navy is doing now with African nations, Doss said.

The vessels have "very shallow drafts so they can go very close to shore without a lot of difficulty. The Navy doesn’t have a ship like this," Doss said.


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