USNS Spearhead to play major role in regional military operations

By Dialogo
April 09, 2014

NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, U.S.A. – The U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) has a new spearhead in the regional counter-narcotics, maritime security, cooperation and contingency operations.
Called “USNS Spearhead,” the 103-meter-long catamaran that can seat 312 troops and has a top speed of 79.6 kilometers per hour will depart on a 4 ½-month deployment from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in the U.S. state of Virginia in late May.
USNS Spearhead will assist in security cooperation activities, maritime security, counter-narcotics trafficking and contingency operations, which include humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, throughout the region.
The vessel, which has a mission bay area of 1,858 square meters and a helicopter deck, will visit Belize, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia during its visit.
In addition to port visits, it will patrol the waters of the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific in search of traffickers transporting narcotics and other illicit material. During these periods at sea, the Spearhead will be operating as a crucial part of Operation Martillo. Operation Martillo is a 14-nation effort designed to shift illicit trafficking out of the littoral regions of Central American countries.
Operation Martillo includes Canada, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.
It has been successful in building partner nation capacity, enhancing interoperability and communications, and increasing disruptions of illicit cargo while en route to Central and North America. To execute this combined operation, U.S., partner nations and allied force ships and aircraft provide persistent presence in select maritime zones. Operation Martillo continues to exploit the use of unconventional platforms and the participation of U.S. and partner nation law enforcement agencies. The Spearhead fits well within this goal.
“The mission is set to be an exciting deployment,” Ken Miller, U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command’s lead planner for the mission, said in a prepared statement. “The final planning conference is a key milestone in the operations planning cycle and helps to blend the detailed planning being done by all stakeholders.”
The service members and civilians met in late March to finalize details of USNS Spearhead’s deployment.
The mission, known as Southern Partnership Station-Joint High Speed Vessel 2014, will build on the experiences of USNS Swift, another catamaran that participated in Southern Partnership Station 2013 and completed testing of an unmanned blimp and unmanned aerial vehicle in 2013.
USNS Spearhead will carry a Seabee detachment, a Marine Corps security cooperation team, a riverine crew and others to Belize. It also will carry U.S. Marines and their equipment from the 4th Law Enforcement Battalion to the Dominican Republic for Tradewinds 2014, a USSOUTHCOM-sponsored exercise that seeks to increase regional cooperation in countering illicit trafficking.
Later this summer, USNS Spearhead will transport personnel from Belize to Guatemala and carry a mobile diving and salvage unit and an explosive ordnance disposal team from Guatemala to Colombia. It will then take the same units from Guatemala and Colombia to Honduras for training in the Central American nation.
After additional detection and monitoring and experimentation periods, it will return the units to the United States in early October, concluding Southern Partnership Station 2014.
Spearhead was built in the city of Mobile in the U.S. state of Alabama and delivered to the Military Sealift Command in late 2012.
The vessel’s first deployment began early this year and was sent to the 6th Fleet area of operations, where it supported security cooperation and maritime security efforts in the Mediterranean Sea, on the Atlantic coast of Africa and in the Gulf of Guinea.
It is one of 10 joint high-speed vessels to be built for the Navy. The vessels will have civilian crews.
Capt. Sam Hancock, the commander of Destroyer Squadron 40 (DESRON), will be the mission commander for the Southern Partnership Station-Joint High Speed Vessel 2014.
“DESRON 40 is looking forward to this deployment,” Hancock said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to the opportunity to see what [USNS Spearhead] can do on its maiden voyage to our [area of responsibility] and build on that for the future.”