In Forbes: Fix The Darn Hospital Ships, Already.

by Craig Hooper on December 22, 2022

Everybody knows that America’s two big hospital ships are largely useless unless lashed to a pier.

They’re so big that, if we had to fully staff them, we’d have trouble operating some stateside medical facilities–they are THAT big a drain on the medical community.

They’re also too big to work in most ports, and, if the port is imperfect, it’s really hard to get folks on and off the ships from a tricky anchorage.

I’ve been hammering on about these problems for more than two decades now (go look at my publications list!). But, every few years, some bright bulb in DoD someplace forgets how operationally feeble our hospital ships are. Somebody ALWAYS tries to push the limit, treating these old former oil tankers as if they were fully kitted-out amphibious vessels. And then we get into situations where some yahoo (no thanks to the spilt command structure on Hospital ships where the civilian master and the driven Navy mission leader end up squabbling and, where, ultimately, everybody in the command cadre has plausible deniability for any mishap) decides that lugging a personnel-packed small boat 40 feet up to the boat deck at night is a good thing.

Of course, the rigging came undone and we came really, really close to losing a whole lot of people.

Anybody going to get their feet put onto the coals over this latest screwup? Probably not.

This is no way to run a Navy. I know nobody wants to fund it, but we’ve known the hospital ships were flawed from day one. It’s time to sigh and pony up the cash. Let’s get some smaller, more useful hospital/medical ships, staff them (!!) with volunteers on a medical school debt forgiveness program (!!!) and then actually put them to real use as part of a coordinated regional strategy (!!!!).

It can be done. I mean…look, if MercyShips can field two hospital ships–albeit pier-bound ones–for the annual DoD equivalent of chump change ($130 million), the Navy can do something similar. We’ve been debating about hospital ships for decades, and, because they aren’t a neat whiz-bang fit with the ‘ole warrior ethos, nobody funds them. They’re the Light Amphibious Warships of the maritime medical set. I mean, it’s not all bad. Getting a few EPF hospital “ambulances” into service is nice, but, again, nobody’s lashed these craft to an actual strategy. And with nobody really sure as to how they’ll actually be used, they’re just, well…I fear they’ll just sorta sit.

Meanwhile, over in China, somebody’s gone and developed a comprehensive strategy for medical support and is building a fleet to match. And, before long, those boats (two large, two medium and a bunch of tiny ones) are going to be all over Africa, the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific, while we sit, either dithering or freaking out, frozen over a fatal hospital ship catastrophe–a catastrophe that is going to happen aboard the old hospital ships if we keep pushing those old oil tankers into amphibious support roles.

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