VANCOUVER, Wash. -- A keel-laying ceremony took place last week for the first of a new class of Army watercraft, the Maneuver Support Vessel (Light).
The Army chief of transportation and other officials attended the ceremony at the Vigor shipbuilding facility near Portland, Oregon. Vigor has been awarded a 10-year contract to construct up to 36 of the new watercraft. The current Army objective is to build 13, officials said.
The MSV(L) will replace the Landing Craft Mechanized-8, a Vietnam-era watercraft that is unable to transport some of today's equipment due to the weight of modern combat vehicles, according to the Program Executive Office for Combat Support and Combat Service Support.
The new watercraft will not only have an increased payload capability compared to the LCM-8, but also an improved draft for better access to waterways, along with increased speed and maneuverability, according to PEO CS&CSS.
"Beginning a new class of boats is truly something worth celebrating as we lay the keel for the Army's first class of digital vessels," said Timothy Goddette, the Army's program executive officer for CS&CSS.
"The entire team is doing a terrific job keeping the program on track, on schedule and within budget," Goddette said at the ceremony. He was referring to the program management team for Army Watercraft Systems, the Army transportation corps, the Army acquisition community and industry partners gathered for the keel laying.
The first MSV(L) prototype is expected to be delivered to the Army in just over a year. A low-rate initial production decision on the Maneuver Support Vessel (Light) is expected in the third quarter of fiscal year 2021, officials said.
Army watercraft enables commanders to deliver combat-configured equipment with personnel, vehicles and sustainment cargo, through fixed, degraded and austere ports, inland waterways, remote and unimproved beaches and coastlines for missions across the spectrum of military operations.
Col. Jered Helwig, chief of Army transportation, and his regimental warrant officer represented all Army mariners and transporters at the ceremony. Helwig also participated in a ceremonial welding of the vessel's keel.
The Army's strategy for the MSV(L) is to integrate mature commercial off-the-shelf subsystems into a new hull form, which takes advantage of the marine industry design innovation and competition, officials said.
They said the vessel's improved maneuverability and surveillance capability will better equip it to operate in inter-coastal areas, rivers and inland waterways and in anti-access/area-denial environments.
The overall length of the vessel will be 117 feet. It will have a speed of 21 knots when laden with cargo and 30 knots when empty. Its range will be 360 nautical miles when fully loaded.
It will have three 2,600-horsepower MTU 2000 engines, three 750 MJP waterjets and three 65kW generators. The vessel's payload will be 82 short tons, which means it can haul one M1 Abrams tank or two Stryker combat vehicles or four Joint Light Tactical Vehicles.
The plan is for the MSV(L) to have a crew of eight Army mariners.
(Rae Higgins of PEO CS&CSS contributed to this article.)