|M/V Susitna during operational testing. Note the cargo hold is lifted during normal cruising.|
Photo taken from Vigor Industrial website.
The M/V Susitna:
M/V Susitna is actually a half-scale prototype for a proposed Expeditionary Landing Craft (E-Craft) requirement for the US Navy, and was made by Alaska Ship & Drydock using a design from Guido Perla & Associates and concept from Lockheed Martin for the Office of Naval Research in 2010, and costed $78 million to build. It was reportedly planned as a "3-in-1" vessel, being a High Speed Catamaran that uses the SWATH (small waterplane area twin hull) design, with a variable draft system that allows the ship to shift from SWATH mode to barge mode by lowering or raising the center deck which carries the cargo, using an advanced hydraulic system. The ship was also designed with icebreaking capability (the first icebreaking SWATH ship in the world), and has the capability to beach and used on unprepared docks.
|The MV Susitna is beachable, which is very important for use on damaged or unprepared docks.|
Photo taken from gCaptain website.
Basic specifications of the ship are as follows:
Crew: 5 men
Range: 800nmi @ 16 knots, 1,600nmi @ 10 knots;
Length (overall): 59.54 meters;
Beam (overall): 18.29 meters;
Design Draft: 3.66 meters;
Design Displacement: 940 long tons (955 metric tons);
Maximum Speed: 20 knots;
Propulsion: 4 x MTU 12V4000 M70 (2,435hp each) Diesel Engines;
Radars: Kelvin Hughes Manta 30kw S-band, 10kw X-band;
Depth Sounders: Furuno FE700 echo sounder
The ship's payload details are as follows:
Center Barge (cargo hold): 160' x 35', approx. 5,400ft² (around 501m²)
Capacity: 35 tons normal load
* 129 passengers plus 20 standard vehicles or 1 tractor-trailer rig
* No passenger, 1 M1A1 Abrams tank or multiple smaller combat vehicles
|The lower and upper deck plans of the M/V Susitna.|
Drawing taken from Mat-Su Borough Purchasing Division RFI document.
Most on the ship's basic specifications can be seen on the link HERE:
Although the ship was being evaluated by the US Navy, it was intended to be used as a civilian ferry for a local Alaskan government unit and service between the city of Anchorage to Port MacKenzie. But the ferry project failed and the ship was left with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, who currently maintains it until a buyer can be found. It is reportedly being sold for only $6 million, just enough to help the borough pay for their bills and free them of maintenance costs.
|The M/V Susitna before launching from Alaska Ship & Drydock's facility in 2010.|
Photo taken from Valor Industrial website.
Enter the Philippine Navy:
MaxDefense has been monitoring this development for some time, and so far no confirmation was made by the Philippine Navy or the Philippines' Department of National Defense if they will acquire the vessel or not. So far PN sources confirmed that they have sent representatives to Alaska to inspect the vessel together with US Navy representatives last August 29, 2014. No word yet regarding their findings and evaluation. The presence of US Navy representatives might mean that the ship could be acquired through FMS, or will be possibly be shouldered by the US government under a US defense grant or part of the annual defense aid it gives to the country. No confirmation though on how the acquisition will be done should there be an agreement between the PN and the US government.
According to the PN sources, they are looking at the vessel due to its versatility and capability to deliver men and materiel directly to the beach, or on unprepared docks which are essential features of a capable transport ship during peacetime Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations and wartime amphibious assault. The reported $6-8 million pricetag, with regards to the technology it possess and its age (the ship is only 4 years old and was barely used), was the main factor of the PN's interest on the ship. Also, the PN sources confirmed to MaxDefense that the budget to acquire the ship, should it happen, will be from other sources and not from the AFP Modernization program.
It should be remembered that the DND and AFP are looking to increase their HADR capability during the aftermath of the back-to-back disasters the Philippines faced in 2013 (Typhoon Haiyan and Bohol Earthquake), with calls for the AFP to have better capability to quickly respond to emergencies. This vessel, if acquired, will be one of these dual-use equipment that can immediately be delivered to the PN should a confirmation be made soon.
|Parts of Samar were destroyed after Typhoon Haiyan hit the island. Unprepared or damaged docks, or beaches similar to that shown in the photo, can still be serviced by ships like the M/V Susitna.|
Aside from the PN, there are many other interested buyers on the ship, mostly private corporations and oil companies, so a decision to acquire the ship or not will probably be made in a few months.
The ship is actually cheap for the technology and capability it possess: a variable geometry, variable draft transport ship that is beachable, with ice breaking capability, and speeds of 20 knots, and almost new and barely used for $6 to 8 million (probably without transfer and other ancillary expenses). Findings during inspection of 3rd party valuation inspector found the ship in excellent condition. And best of all, it is readily available for transfer to whoever buys it. It would be best to compare the ship to its nearest equivalent to the Philippine Navy: the BRP Tagbanua (AT-296).
|The BRP Tagbanua (AT-296) (above), the PN's newest transport asset, is the best platform to compare the M/V Susitna as they have almost comparable capabilities.|
1. Price and Age:
The M/V Susitna originally costs $78 million in US taxpayer's money to construct, and they're selling it between $6 to $8 million ++ after 4 years of moored in cold Alaskan waters, barely used only for tests and trial runs, and for maintenance. The BRP Tagbanua was acquired by the Philippine Navy for a contract price of Php 178,900,000.00 (around $4.2 million in 2011). Both are almost the same age, with the M/V Susitna only more than a year older, still quite young for a used vessel. Based on this, the Alaskan ship is actually cheap considering that the price is not much different from the locally made and less technologically advanced BRP Tagbanua. It is also worth noting that Tagbanua is also actually cheap if compared to similarly but foreign built vessels of the same class.
|Looking at the recent photo of the M/V Susitna above, it really does look immaculate.|
2. Speed, Range, and Sea State Level:
The design of the M/V Susitna's hull was supposed to cut through the water more efficiently than standard transport ships, the Tagbanua included. The Susitna's maximum speed of 18 knots is barely higher than the Tagbanua's designed maximum speed of 15 knots, although it is expected that the twin-hull design of the US-made ship is more stable and less drag than the PN's LCU. The catamaran has a designed range of 1,600nmi @ 10 knots and is certified to operate to up to Sea State 3 although there were claims that the ship operated well in higher sea states. No range and sea state certification was found for the AT-296, although it is expected to be in the same range as the catamaran.
This is where the M/V Susitna fails to beat the BRP Tagbanua. While the Susitna has a larger cargo deck of 501m² compared to the Tagbanua's 250m², the LCU beats in payload capacity as it can carry up to 110 tons of cargo versus the catamaran's measly 35 tons. With the catamaran having a higher displacement than the LCU, the design of the hull to be capable of icebreaking might actually be a disadvantage since there's no use for this capability in tropical waters.
|The BRP Tagbanua's cargo deck is narrow and smaller than that of the M/V Susitna, yet it can carry heavier equipment unlike the catamaran. But the Susitna's capacity is good enough to carry lighter loads.|
Photo taken from Rappler.
In this case, the Susitna may not be a good transport vessel for heavy equipment like tanks and bulldozers, although it could be a good asset to carry light vehicles and relief goods, or using the large deck to transport people for short distances.
4. Fuel Efficiency, Maintenance:
The heavier M/V Susitna is powered by four 2,400hp MTU 12V4000 M70 engines, while the 40% lighter BRP Tagbanua is driven by a single Caterpillar CAT C32 ACERT 1,600hp diesel engine. You decide who drinks more fuel.
With more mechanical parts than a standard military or civilian transport ship, plus the vaunted advanced hydraulic lifting system for the cargo hold, it is also expected that the M/V Susitna may require more maintenance checks, spare parts, and a more complicated maintenance program that equates to more costs.
The M/V Susitna is a very nice ship to have, with technological features and extra capabilities that the PN might be happy to have. Technology-wise, having it means access for the PN to study for its self-reliance programs, and with the ship already awaiting a buyer, it is actually the best to have if the need is very immediate. In the case of the PN, they might be in a hurry to acquire an HADR-capable vessel very soon as the super typhoon season is fast approaching.
Politically speaking, it is also worth looking at the US Navy's involvement in the acquisition. While we do not know how the PN intends to acquire the ship should they be interested, the US Navy might be instrumental to the acquisition, and it might be possible that they would grant the ship just to help the Mat-Su Borough get though with the pain of paying for its continuous upkeep without generating anything for the local government unit.
But it is also worth considering the PN's track record in terms of paying for acquisition and maintenance expenses. At the reported offer price, it is actually cheap, and the national government may already have the budget ready and only awaiting for the PN's approval. But the expected maintenance cost, coupled with the possible high operating cost might be a strong reason for the PN to decline the offer. MaxDefense's proposal is for the PN to only maximize the use of this ship in emergency situations, where money is not an issue when time is of the essence and lives are at stake.
MaxDefense believes that the PN should study this offer very well, although they must do it fast as there are many other possible candidates who might be willing to acquire the ship.
|The Australians have started taking out their Balikpapan-class heavy landing crafts. The PN could take them in if they are still in good condition.|
Photo taken from Wikipedia.
Other proposals include the acquisition of other readily-available assets from other sources. The Australians have recently decommissioned their Balikpapan-class heavy landing crafts, which could be sold for cheap due to their age, while the Koreans have already started disposing some of their older landing crafts, with one example already reportedly recently donated to the PN. Also, it is expected that the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) is about to take-out some of their Go Jun Bong-class landing ship tanks to give way to newer ships that are coming in soon. The PN should take advantage of these assets not only to for HADR operations, but also to replace the already delapidated World War II US-made LSTs sisterships of the BRP Sierra Madre that the PN continues to operate. For long term, the PN must continue to acquire new LCUs similar to its BRP Tagbanua, which is said to have some identified flaws that could be rectified in newer derivatives of the ship class.
|The PN should also take a closer look at the Korean Go Jun Bong-class LST to replace the PN's WW2-era LSTs. These are good long term solutions to replace old PN transport assets.|
Photo taken from Wikipedia.