The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Navy:
(MOBILE, Ala.) — The U.S. Navy recognized two milestones Jan. 18 in the construction of expeditionary fast transports (EPFs) — the keel authentication of the Navy's ninth EPF, USNS City of Bismarck, and the start of fabrication for the 11th EPF, USNS Puerto Rico.
The keel for EPF 9 was said to be "truly and fairly laid" as it was authenticated by Robert O. Wefald, former attorney general, North Dakota, by welding his initials into the keel plate. The ceremony represents a major milestone in the ship's construction as the keel is the symbolic backbone of a ship.
The start of construction on Puerto Rico signifies the procurement of materials and components, and the shipyard's ability to begin fabrication on the hull. In September 2016, Austal USA was awarded a contract to definitize long lead-time materials and for the detail design and construction of EPFs 11 and 12.
"As we mark these milestones, the program is benefiting from serial production efficiencies at all stages of the construction process," said Capt. Henry Stevens, Strategic and Theater Sealift program manager, Program Executive Office, Ships. "Our industry and Navy teams are committed to delivering these highly capable platforms, and today's milestones mark our progress in delivering two more ships."
EPF ships are noncombatant vessels designed to operate in shallow-draft ports and waterways, increasing operational flexibility for a wide range of activities including maneuver and sustainment, relief operations in small or damaged ports, flexible logistics support, or as the key enabler for rapid transport. The ships are capable of interfacing with roll-on/roll-off discharge facilities, as well as on/off-loading vehicles such as a fully combat-loaded Abrams main battle tank.
EPFs support a variety of missions including overseas contingency operations, conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, supporting special operations forces, and supporting emerging joint sea-basing concepts.
EPF is capable of transporting 600 short tons 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots. Each vessel includes a flight deck to support day and night aircraft launch and recovery operations. City of Bismarck and Puerto Rico will have airline-style seating for 312 embarked forces with fixed berthing for 104.
As one of the Defense Department's largest acquisition organizations, PEO Ships is responsible for executing the development and procurement of all destroyers, amphibious ships, special mission and support ships, and boats and craft.