The United States Navy wants a new “ambulance” ship that would have just enough medical facilities to treat lightly or moderately injured troops. The service included a funding request to convert an expeditionary fast transport ship typically used to move troops and equipment around to instead harbor medical facilities and personnel.
The proposal to create such an ambulance ship is in the Navy’s Unfunded Priorities list for fiscal year 2020. Unfunded priorities lists, forwarded to Congress every year by each of the services, consist of “nice to have” items that the service didn’t officially request in the annual budget but would still like to have if Congress is feeling generous. Typically Congress funds many unfunded priorities, depending on the overall budget outlook.
This year, according to USNI News, the service has a proposal: “Converting an (Expeditionary Fast Transport) T-EPF into an Expeditionary Medical Transport (EMT)”. According to the unfunded priorities list, it would, “Converts Expeditionary Fast Transport ship (T-EPF 14) into an Expeditionary Medical Transport (EMT) to support Role 2 Enhanced Medical Requirements. The EMT will provide "Ambulance" type medical services in support of Distributed Maritime Operations. The EMT will be implemented via an engineering change proposal (ECP) modifcation to the shipbuilding contract.”
In other words, the proposal would convert a future Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport, T-EPF 14, into an ambulance ship. T-EPF 14 is a planned ship and doesn’t even have a name yet, but the service wants $49 million to alter it from a standard expeditionary fast transport to a fast ambulance ship.
Spearhead-class EPFs are 338 foot long catamaran vessels displacing 2,500 tons. The aluminum-hulled ships can travel up to 1,200 miles at speeds reaching 40 knots. They are designed to have room to carry up to 312 combat troops, vehicles as large as Abrams tanks, and can offload them via ramp or helicopter.
Role 2 Enhanced Medical Requirements, as USNI News points out, include, “triage and resuscitation, treatment and holding of patients until they can be returned to duty or evacuated, and emergency dental treatment. Though normally this level will not include surgical capabilities, certain operations may require their augmentation with the capabilities to perform emergency surgery and essential post-operative management.”
The U.S. Navy currently has enhanced medical facilities on major warships, including aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships. The service also has two very large Mercy-class hospital ships. Converted from oil tankers, the Mercy-class ships have twelve operating rooms, more than 1,000 beds, CAT scanners, and other advanced medical services. The new ambulance ship would supplement existing and future hospital ships, taking the less seriously wounded and distributing medical services across more ships, in case some of them are the victim of enemy attack.
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