Austal USA bids for USN "X-Craft"
Dubbed the "X-Craft," the 80 meter catamaran will feature twin LM2500 gas turbines and be capable of speeds of around 50 knots. Prime contractor for the project is San Diego-based Titan Systems Corporation, which has selected Austal USA as one of five shipyards to participate in the final tender round. The tender closes early in 2003, with delivery of the independently designed aluminium catamaran scheduled for mid-2004.
In bidding for the project, Austal USA has been able to draw upon the extensive high speed catamaran experience of its parent company, Austal Ships of Western Australia. Among the more than 60 fast catamarans built by the yard are six fast ferries powered by gas turbines, including the 86 meter catamaran "Villum Clausen". In February 2000 this vessel claimed the world record for the longest distance traveled by a ship in a 24-hour period.
"While a number of shipyards, Austal included, have built diesel-powered high speed vessels, Austal stands alone as the only company in the world still building high speed craft that has experience in the design and construction of large, gas turbine-powered catamarans," says Austal Ships' Military Projects Manager, Kim Gillis.
Gillis says this expertise is highly significant when it comes to the X-Craft project and other high speed vessels for defense applications.
"The world's major navies have typically selected gas turbines for all but their smallest surface ships, citing their high reliability and availability, quiet operation, low life cycle costs and reduced manning and maintenance requirements," he explains. "We expect that this preference will continue for many of the HSV (High Speed Vessel) and TSV (Theatre Support Vessel) projects that are on the military's radar screens at present."
In fact, the vessel size and speed requirements military planners are seeking from future HSVs indicates that gas turbines may well be the only viable propulsive power source. Present day diesel engines are either too heavy or not sufficiently powerful for these larger ships.
"These factors both show that Austal's expertise with gas turbines in similar applications will be an important strategic advantage over other shipyards when pursuing military contracts. It really sets Austal apart," Gillis says.
The propulsion plant on "Villum Clausen" comprises two 18,000kW GE LM2500 gas turbines each driving a pair of steerable waterjets via single-input, dual output gearboxes. During its record breaking journey, the ship covered a distance of 1,063 nautical miles at an average speed of 44.29 knots.
Austal's familiarity with the LM2500 is particularly relevant for defense applications, with 29 of the world's navies using this gas turbine model. In the early 1970s the United States Navy selected the LM2500 series engine as the prime mover for propulsion on the Spruance (DD963) Class destroyers.
Different configurations of this engine have since been used on each new class of USN surface combatants including the Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG7) Class frigates, the Ticonderoga (CG47) Class cruisers, the Kidd (DDG993 and Arleigh Burke (DDG51) Class destroyers, as well as the Fast Combat Support (AOE6) Class supply ships. More recently they have been selected for the new LMSR Strategic Sealift ships and LHD Amphibious Assault Ships. Today, over 190 ships in the United States Navy fleet are fitted with LM2500s.
Other navies that have selected LM2500 gas turbines include those of France, Italy, Norway, Australia, Spain, Thailand, Canada, Japan, South Africa and Germany.
"Our gas turbine and waterjet experience, coupled with our expertise in the design and construction of large, lightweight, high-speed ships and modern and efficient production facilities in both Australia and the United States, clearly qualifies Austal as the ideal supplier of large military HSVs," Kim Gillis says.
Austal is pursuing a number of other opportunities in the market for large, high-speed military vessels.
In one key project, Austal USA is playing an integral role in developing advanced concepts for a Focused Mission High-Speed Ship (FMHSS) for the United States Navy. The Mobile, Alabama shipyard is part of a study team led by General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works which also includes The Boeing Company, British Aerospace Corporation (BAE), Maritime Applied Physics Corporation, CAE Marine Systems and five other General Dynamics business units.
Austal Ships' advanced hullform technology forms the basis of the team's FMHSS which will be capable of speeds in excess of 50 knots as well as providing outstanding efficiency and performance in all sea conditions, endurance and reliability for sustained independent operations and shallow draft for operations in the littoral environment.
The FMHSS study will assist the U.S Navy in defining requirements for the rapidly emerging Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program, which is expected to involve the construction of between 30 and 60 ships starting in 2005.