A couple years ago,in another forum, when the issue of Somali pirates was just starting to heat up, lots of people recognized that using a multi-billion dollar guided missile destroyer to counter pirates with small arms in a skiff was a poor use of resources.
I suggested small, inexpensive coastal patrol boats were a better platform. The problem is, small, inexpensive coastal patrol boats don’t have very good endurance. They either need a base to operate from, or a tender (mothership) to support their operations. I suggested a modified Offshore Supply Vessel would be ideal. I was quickly told such an idea was unworkable, and that OSVs were unsuitable. Perhaps. But if that’s the case, why is the US managing contracts to build just such ships for the Iraqi Navy?
The OSVs are being built under a Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contract that was awarded to prime contractor RiverHawk Fast Sea Frames (RHFSF), a Tampa, Fla., shipbuilder in late 2009/early 2010. The total contract value, including vessel construction and a support package that includes crew training, is $113.5 million. Of this, the vessel construction contract is worth $70.14 million, with $22.5 million in funding from the Iraqis and $47.6 million from the U.S.-funded Iraqi Security Force Fund.
RHFSF subcontracted the production design and lofting for the OSVs to Genoa Design International, a Canadian firm based in St. John’s, Newfoundland, while construction was subcontracted to Gulf Island Marine Fabricators (GIMF) of Houma, La., for approximately $40 million, according to media reports.
OSV’s have a few things going for them. First, they tend to be quite capable of keeping the sea in rough weather. They also tend to have great endurance. And where they normally would carry huge volumes of drilling mud, they can carry vast stores of fuel to support other small craft. Being supply vessels, they have a built in capability to carry plenty of stores and ammunition for any supported vessels. They have the space and power to provide a command and control suite for a squadron of small craft. With some relatively minor modifications, they could also support helicopter operations, which are key to surveillance and control of the sea, as well as an excellent fire support platform.
Modification of OSVs as Offshore Patrol Vessels isn’t a panacea for the US Navy, but in certain limited geographical regions, they would, combined with a fleet of small but capable patrol craft, provide a valuable, low cost tool to support traditional maritime missions.