Newest Fast Hospital Ship to Be Named ‘USNS Balboa’ After Naval Medical Center San Diego

Expeditionary Medical Ship
Artist’s rendering of a Expeditionary Medical Ship. Courtesy Austal USA

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told a cheering crowd at Naval Medical Center San Diego on Friday that the second Bethesda-class Expeditionary Medical Ship will be named USNS Balboa in honor of the historic medical complex.

The new class of ships is designed for rapid response to treat injuries among forward-deployed troops and damaged warships. The fast, shallow-draft vessels can quickly reach remote locations amid a crisis.

Carlos Del Toro
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Torro speaks at Naval Medical Center San Diego on Friday. Photo by Chris Jennewein

The 361-foot long catamarans built by Austal USA will have three operating rooms and 60 beds. Their flight decks will accommodate helicopters and Osprey tiltrotors. A total of three ships are currently planned.

Several hundred sailors and Marines gathered in the plaza outside Bob Wilson Naval Hospital — the official name of “Balboa Hospital” — to hear the secretary.

“The naming of these ships after hospitals is in your honor,” Del Toro told the crowd. “The difference between us and our adversaries is our people.”

The Bethesda-class vessels will be the Navy’s first new hospital ships since the San Diego-based USNS Mercy and Norfolk-based USNS Comfort entered service in the late 1980s.

“Imagine a fast ferry with all of the facilities of a small hospital,” said Del Toro.

Noting that the Mercy is currently deployed on a humanitarian mission to the western Pacific, he said the new Bethesda-class vessels can advance “naval diplomacy around the world” by visiting locations that cannot accommodate the larger, 1,000-bed hospital ships.

The Balboa’s homeport has not be designated, but Del Torro said it would not be out of the question to base one one the new hospital ships in Norfolk and another in San Diego.

The first of the new medical ships is expected to be delivered in late 2026.