The U.S. Navy notified General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) in June of a modification to a contract awarded in early 2012 for construction of a new mobile landing platform (MLP), the third of a class of four, to be named the Lewis B. Puller (MLP-3). The change, valued at $11,200,000, ordered detail design for new features to be incorporated in MLP-3 and -4, each of which will designated an Afloat Forward Staging Base, or AFSB.
In May the Navy took delivery of the first ship, the USNS Montford Point (MLP-1) at NASSCO’s San Diego shipyard. The vessel will go through further testing and trials leading to installation of a Core Capabilities Set, which includes a sideport ramp, large mooring fenders, and landing-craft air-cushioned lanes, all intended to facilitate the transfer of vehicles and cargo to and from joint high-speed vessels and large medium-speed roll-on/roll-off cargo ships.
NASSCO laid the keel for the second ship, the John Glenn (MLP-2) in December 2012 and expects to launch and christen her this fall.
The MLPs, which will be owned by the Military Sealift Command and operated by a civilian crew of 34 personnel under contract to MSC, will serve as massive floating logistics bases for forward-deployed Marine and Army units. The Montford Point is 785 feet long, displaces 83,000 tons, and will have 25,000 square feet of stowage for vehicles plus capacity for 380,000 gallons of JP-1 fuel.
The ship is powered by four medium-speed diesel main engines that draw propulsion power from a 24-megawatt diesel-electric plant; she will be capable of a sustained speed of 15 knots for a range of 9,500 nautical miles. The MLP will be fitted out with a 2 MW azimuthing bow thruster for greater maneuverability, and will incorporate float-on/float-off technology for partial submersion to ease the loading of cargo aboard transit craft. According to Navy officials, the four MLPs will be a foundation of the Navy’s seabasing strategy for rapidly and efficiently moving cargo from logistics ships to fast transport craft for transit ashore, enhancing the staying power of forward-deployed Marine expeditionary units (MEUs).
The Navy said the four MLPs will be integrated into MSC’s four maritime prepositioning ship squadrons and, along with maritime prepositioning-force auxiliary ships, will be employed to help develop an initial seabasing capability.
Seabasing will be critical as the Marines shift from operations in Afghanistan as part of the Department of Defense’s ongoing strategic pivot to the Pacific. MEUs and other task-organized Marine Corps units are expected to coordinate more closely with the Navy, as well as Special Operations Command and the Coast Guard, and rely more heavily on logistics on station at sea for combat operations, theater-security cooperation, and humanitarian-assistance missions.
The AFSB capability to be designed by NASSCO is expected to include a large hangar, flight deck, enhanced fuel and cargo storage, maintenance spaces, and other features aimed at supporting special-operations units and helicopters.
In early 2012 the Navy designated the amphibious assault ship Ponce (LPD-15) as an “interim” AFSB (AFSBI-15) to conduct minesweeping operations in the Persian Gulf. The ship is manned by a mixed Navy and civilian crew of 165 MSC mariners and 55 Navy personnel. The Ponce supports MH-53E mine-countermeasures helicopters and Avenger-class minesweepers and, according to the Navy, is demonstrating the efficacy of a large multidimensional platform that remains on station to provide extended operational support.
Underscoring yet another aspect of the range of AFSB applications, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, announced that the Navy plans to fit the Ponce with a solid-state laser next year, following the successful demonstration of a laser-weapon system installed on board the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Dewey (DDG-105), in destroying an airborne drone last summer.