USNS Spearhead Completes First in Class, Material Readiness Inspection

USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1) completed her first Ships Material Assessment and Readiness Testing (SMART) inspection, June 14.

Military Sealift Command’s ships undergo a SMART inspection every five years to ensure their material conditions meet the standards required to qualify the vessels as operationally ready.

“A SMART inspection is a period material readiness evaluation conducted on MSC’s ships to ensure that they can perform for their expected service life and to ensure they are capable of performing their mission,” said Capt. Chris Wells, the director of inspections at the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). “During these inspections, we check out all of the mission specific equipment including propulsion, safety gear, and damage control equipment. We check out everything from stem to stern.”

Spearhead’s SMART inspection lasted seven days and culminated in an at-sea demonstration of its material readiness.

“A SMART inspection is an ‘as-is’ evaluation, so there is no staging and which results in a credible evaluation of our ship’s material condition,” said Mark Nisbett, a specialist with MSC’s Expeditionary Fast Transport program (PM 8). “Spearhead is going to deploy soon. This inspection ensures that the theater commander will receive a ship which has met operational standards and is ready to perform its mission.”

Spearhead was the first ship in its class to undergo the SMART inspection.

“The inspectors who made up the SMART inspection team are they best of the best. This team is comprised experienced licensed mariners, naval officers, master chief petty Officers and contractors,” according to Nisbett.

The at-sea portion of Spearhead’s SMART inspection included a one-hour, high power run at speeds of approximately 35 knots. The civil service mariners who crew Spearhead also conducted an anchor drop test, a flight deck counter measure wash-down and a test of the high expansion foam firefighting system during the underway portion of the inspection.

“We are fortunate on Spearhead to have a smaller crew size which has led to an at-sea family of sorts. As a result, everyone aboard is always ready to help everyone else,” said Capt. Douglas Casavant, USNS Spearhead’s master. “To become a member of Spearhead’s crew requires lots of cross training so the members of each department have significant knowledge about the other departments throughout the ship, which is very valuable in terms of material readiness.”

“We have limited organic major maintenance or repair capabilities aboard Spearhead, so we rely on a culture of excellence and the technical knowledge of the crew to make sure the ship is operational,” Casavant added, “When we do have technical problems at sea, the ship is equipped with numerous back-up systems which allow us to keep operating until we can get to a facility for repairs.”

Spearhead is crewed by approximately 20 civil service mariners who are responsible for all shipboard operations on the vessel.

Wells recommended, “In order for a ship’s crew to maintain a high level of material readiness they should develop a culture which promotes ownership of the vessel. The crew needs to be proactive in maintaining their ship, equipment and gear in accordance to their prescribed maintenance system.”

For an MSC ship to pass a SMART inspection, it must earn an overall score of no less than 59. Also the ship must have zero oil or fuel leaks and zero safety discrepancies.

Upon pulling into Joint Base Little Creek-Fort Story, USNS Spearhead passed its first ever SMART inspection.