Speedy New Navy Medical Vessels Are Delivered With The Pacific In Mind

Tucked within the Defense Department budget recently passed for the current year is funding for a unique medical ship for the Navy – one constructed to operate like an ambulance instead of a hospital. 

The builders and Navy officials state that such a re-imagined vessel, dubbed the Expeditionary Medical Ship, is designed to facilitate easy movement and rapid responses in shallow littorals and expanses of a future OT like the Pacific. 

The service strives to develop a pool of skilled and experienced medical personnel trained and prepared to onboard these vessels to offer triage care anywhere, anytime.

Medical Ship Facility
Image for representation purposes only.

The Expeditionary Medical Ship will be constructed by Austal USA and based on Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF), a catamaran the Navy uses for personnel transit in operational theatres (coastal) like South and Central America. 

The first-ever EMS, EPF-17, is expected to be delivered by 2026 (December) to the Navy, per budget documents; the service until now has received green-lighted funding for three. 

The Navy, eventually, wants to have a trio of platforms that can operate together to extend seamless care worldwide. They are developing a concept, T-AH(X), to replace ageing hospital vessels and add EMS and a faster connector platform, the EPF Flight II.

The updates to Navy medicine afloat are in anticipation of a high-stakes, future conflict against a peer adversary where resources are almost nil, and rapid response is a must. 

The future of the environment will demand what the Navy refers to as “Distributed Maritime Operations,” or the DMO.

Per specifics shared by Austal, the EMS is expected to be a little larger than the EPF, almost 110 meters to its 103. A redesigned hull is expected to provide more stability; hence, it has a shallow draft of 15 feet, or nearly 4.5 meters, which will permit direct access to external, austere ports, per the builder. 

It is a significantly different capability than what already exists on the service’s two hospital vessels, which have deployed worldwide for humanitarian missions and activities since their commissioning back in 1986. 

The USNS Mercy and Comfort initially emerged as San Clemente-class tankers. These are reportedly designed to increase stability and capacity. 

With almost 1,000 beds apiece, they are currently the largest vessels serving the Navy besides its nuclear-operated carriers. And they also move at average speeds of below 12 knots, or almost 14 miles an hour.

Factsheets for the EMS reflect a fully loaded top speed of over 18 knots or about 20 miles per hour. According to provided specifications, the ship can maintain that speed over more than 5,000 NMS, which is the distance to San Francisco from Beijing.

Per provided specs, EMS will have 60 medical beds and three operating rooms, separated into acute care, ICU, critical isolation, and spaces dedicated to ICU isolation. Two rigid-hulled, 11-meter inflatable vessels facilitate patient transfer from other ships or water rescue. 

The vessel’s flight deck has space sufficient for a single H-53, H-60, or V-22 helicopter. Medical rooms will be equipped for various needs that range from the stabilization of trauma casualties; to combat search and rescue; OB/GYN care; blood banking, and so on.

Besides humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and non-combatant evacuation activities currently facilitated by today’s hospital vessels, EMS will be able to support special operations and at-sea personnel recovery from impaired warships.

References: Military.com, Real Clear Defense

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