Three New U.S. Hospital Ships Move Forward with Contract to Austal USA

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Austal USA has been contracted for the final design leveraging its Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) platform and construction of the long-overdue next generation of U.S. Navy hospital ships. The contract which is valued at $867.6 million moves the project forward with the company reporting the vessels will be manufactured in its USA aluminum manufacturing line following completion of the last EFT, which was authorized in 2022 and began construction in October 2023.

The Navy has been anxious to move this program forward to replace the older vessels, the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy, which have been in service since 1986/1987. The older vessels are based on the hulls of 1975/1976 vintage oil tankers.

Known as the Expeditionary Medical Ship, the new design is a variant of the platform while also representing a new vision for the Navy’s hospital ships. They are designed to be fast and highly maneuverable with a shallow draft capability. Austal highlights the catamaran also provides for a more stable vessel well suited to medical operations. 

According to Austal, the design will enable the vessels, which will be part of the future Bethesda Class, greater reach and allow for access to austere ports. Also supporting their mission is a flight deck designed to handle an Osprey or the military’s helicopters including the large Sikorsky crafts and heavy-lift cargo helicopters. Part of the new vision for the hospital ships is a more rapid response rate and a forward deployment capability.

The design calls for ships that will be fast with a top speed of at least 30 knots and a range of 5,500 miles with an operating speed between 18 and 24 knots. Naval News reports the specs call for a ship 361 feet in length and able to accommodate over 220 personnel.

“These three new EMS will enhance the US Navy’s capability to provide effective medical and surgical support anywhere in the world, quickly, safely, and efficiently,” said Paddy Gregg, Chief Executive Officer of Austal Limited. “The new Expeditionary Medical Ship further extends the capabilities of the proven Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) platform, designed and constructed by Austal, to enable more complex medical procedures and operations to be performed onboard, at sea and underway.” 

Like their predecessors, the new ships will have a broad range of medical facilities both for emergency services as well as humanitarian assistance. They will be dedicated medical ships with facilities comparable to the naval hospitals onshore. The medical facility includes triage and critical care as well as operating rooms, laboratories, and radiology.

Austal USA highlights that it has completed the delivery of 13 EPFs to the U.S. Navy. They are now working on the EPS Flight II, preparing to deliver the first vessel which will be the USNS Cody, which features medical capability that includes basic secondary health care built around primary surgery, intensive care unit, ward beds, and limited x-ray, laboratory, and dental support. The vessel was launched in February 2023 and the Navy reports when completed the new hospital will have the ability to support approximately 41 medical patients and 147 embarked forces. The Cody will be followed by two more Flight II vessels before the next-generation EMS Bethesda Class.

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