imagesOn January 1, 2015, a brief text posted on the Facebook page of the U.S. 6th Fleet[1], quoted on the official webpage of the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa / U.S. 6th Fleet reports that “USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1) enters” the area of responsibility of the 6th Fleet “to support of Africa Partnership Station”[2]. On December 27, 2014, NewsChannel 3 reported that “the Navy’s first Joint High-Speed Vessel will deploy from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story on Sunday [December 27, 2014]” and that “the USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) is scheduled to head to the U.S. Sixth Fleet’s area of responsibility”. The same open source stated that “there it will support partnership-building and maritime security efforts off the coast of West Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea”, and that “the Spearhead is the first of 10 Joint High-Speed vessels planned for the Navy. It’s a government vessel owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by Military Sealift Command. The Spearhead is capable of carrying up to 312 passengers”[3].

USNS Spearhead is a “338-foot-long aluminum catamaran”, specially designed and built “for rapid intra-theater transport of troops and military equipment”. The ship is “fast, flexible and maneuverable even in shallow waters”, so that it is an ideal platform “for transporting troops and equipment quickly within a theater of operations”. It has a displacement of up to 2,460 tons (full load) and can reach a speed of at least 35 knots (miles/hour). Its crew has between 22 and 42 Civilian Mariners. The ship can carry more than 300 completely armed and equipped soldiers (104 beds/berths or 312 seated), and 600 tons of weapons or equipment. Its aircraft capacity is “two helicopters (one medium folded in helo parking area and one on deck)”[4]. Stars and Stripes reports that the ship has “a ramp that can hold 100 tons – enough for a fully loaded tank” and that “three” such ships “have been delivered, and a fourth has been christened”, while “the contract price is $160 million per ship”[5].

In case of need, from the Gulf of Guinea to the Black Sea

According to what we know at this very moment, USNS “Spearhead will serve under the international capacity building program APS [Africa Partnership Station], working with African partner nations to enhance maritime security off the coast of West Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea”[6].

But, on the other hand, the vessel belongs to the U.S. 6th Fleet, actively involved, along the past few months, in resolutely balancing the difficult strategic situation in the Black Sea area by means of regularly deploying combat ships to the Black Sea, supporting the NATO members in the region (Turkey, and mainly Romania and Bulgaria) in their efforts aimed at coping with increased Russian aggressiveness and assertiveness. We estimate that, in case of need, USNS Spearhead will be able to strongly enhance the 6th Fleet capability of projecting power (by quickly transporting extra reinforcements there) to the Black Sea area. At this very moment, a U.S. guided missile destroyer is deployed, strictly according to the Montreux Convention[7], in the Black Sea[8].

A strong and continuous U.S. naval presence in the Black Sea is to be regarded, we think, as one of the most potent strategic deterrent instruments the U.S. can use in order to maintain a certain balance of power in the region, not allowing Moscow to transform the Black Sea into a ‘Russian lake’, as president Vladimir Putin clearly wishes.

[1] https://www.facebook.com/USNavalForcesEuropeAfrica?ref=stream&fref=nf

[2] See the webpage “COMMANDER, U.S. NAVAL FORCES EUROPE AND AFRICA/U.S. 6TH FLEET”, at the Internet address http://www.navy.mil/local/naveur/

[3] Todd CORILLO, “Navy’s first Joint High-Speed Vessel to deploy Sunday”, NewsChannel 3, December 27, 2014, at the Internet address http://wtkr.com/2014/12/27/navys-first-joint-high-speed-vessel-to-deploy-sunday/

[4] For these data see “USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1)”, on NavSource Online: Service Ship Photo Archive, at the Internet address http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/77/77101.htm

[5] Steven BEARDSLEY, “Navy explores new roles with 1st-in-class USNS Spearhead”, Stars and Stripes, April 29, 2014, at the Internet address http://www.stripes.com/news/navy-explores-new-roles-with-1st-in-class-usns-spearhead-1.279984

[6] Corey HENSLEY, “USNS Spearhead Enters U.S. 6th Fleet for APS Deployment”, January 1, 2015, at the Internet address http://cne-cna-c6f.dodlive.mil/usns-spearhead-enters-u-s-6th-fleet-for-aps-deployment/

[7] See the complete text of the Montreux Convention (“CONVENTION REGARDING THE REGIME OF THE STRAITS SIGNED AT MONTREUX, JULY 20th, 1936”) at the Internet address http://sam.baskent.edu.tr/belge/Montreux_ENG.pdf

[8] Corey HENSLEY, “USS Donald Cook Arrives in Romania”, December 30, 2014, at the Internet address http://cne-cna-c6f.dodlive.mil/uss-donald-cook-arrives-in-romania/ . The text is clearly stating that “the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) arrived in Constanta, Romania, for a scheduled port visit, Dec. 30, 2014” and that “Donald Cook’s visit to Romania reaffirms to NATO allies that the U.S. Navy shares a commitment to strengthening ties, while working toward mutual goals of promoting peace and stability in the Black Sea region”.

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