The U.S. Navy’s growing fleet of Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) vessels has been under development for many years. They are a multi-mission high-speed option for a wide range of operations, which include humanitarian assistance, medical support, the transportation of special operations, and the replenishment of troops, supplies, equipment and weapons.
These EPFs have been supporting combat operations and training exercises in vital strategic areas to include the Black Sea. This has prompted Russia to track EPFs in the Black Sea, according to Defence Blog. The presence of EFF vessels in the Black Sea is crucial because U.S. Navy warships often patrol to show force and deter potential Russian aggression in the region. This provides support to America’s NATO allies along the coast of the Black Sea.
The EPFs continue to play a role in conducting humanitarian missions, such as the U.S. medical response to the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Haiti. The USNS Burlington (T-EPF-10) was immediately sent to the disaster area to deliver supplies, transport key personnel, offer medical assistance, and use a deck-launched ScanEagle drone to collect images of destruction in support of rescue workers. This has helped emergency responders to discern which airfield can be used and where there are the most amount of people with pressing needs. The ship, which has a reconfigurable cargo bay, can transport injured personnel. It relies on a shallow fifteen-foot draft to access shallow island areas and ports closer to shore.
The “EPF has a crew of 26 Civilian Mariners with airline style seating for 312 embarked troops and fixed berthing for an additional 104,” according to a Navy press statement.
Austal USA, which is working on EPF Flight II modifications, is greatly expanding the ship’s medical capabilities, perhaps in response to the increased need, operational performance and potentially growing international need.
“The EPF Flight II variant will have considerable changes for medical facilities, including a multi-bed intensive care unit, two operating rooms, and berthing for a medical team of approximately 100 personnel,” according to a statement released by Austal at the Sea Air Space Exhibition. “Its flight deck will be capable of landing CH-53 helicopters and V-22 aircraft.”
So why not further expand the Navy’s medical assistance capabilities with more EPFs? Surely, congressional markups and committee budget procedures will play the most significant role in deciding the future of the EPFs. Still, it’s notable the Navy’s recent budget requests have not included much funding for the vessels. Perhaps that will change as service leaders further examine the ship’s growing mission scope and operational value.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.