Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB)

On 15 December 2011 Military Sealift Command (MSC) requested information [Solicitation Number: MM-12-04] about the cost and availability of providing one (1) U.S. or Foreign Flagged vessel to support maritime forces. The vessel will serve as an Afloat Forward Staging Base, providing maritime mobility, support, and refueling of small boats and rotary-wing aircraft. The closing date was Thursday, 12 January 2012. It is anticipated that the vessel will be USCG certificated. The Owner shall coordinate with USCG to determine under which Subchapter the vessel will be classed. The Crane 1 clear area and the helicopter open deck space really 150 feet wide. A helipad will not satisfy the requirements for the flight deck, which must be NAVAIR certified. The additional open deck space of 150 ft x 150 ft for staging equipment is to be contiguous to the flight deck. The aviation maintenance area must be contiguous to the flight deck area or accessible from it. For example, an industrial elevator might work.

Hosting the large number of naval Special Operations Forces brought into Afghanistan during the height of the conflict -- at one point the most numerous "troops" on the ground of any service -- the Navy improvised an afloat forward staging base (AFSB) using the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). While the presence of the aircraft carrier offered good facilities for the management of Special Operations helicopter aviation and command and control, the cost of the mission was that Kitty Hawk remained outside the normal battle group rotation cycle, causing the other carriers in service to extend deployments.

Without operational Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) capability, Army air assault capabilities will be ineffective if their forward staging bases ashore are more than 150 miles from their objective areas. MSC, through the CNO's SeaPower 21 and sea-basing initiative, is developing the concept of the afloat forward staging base to rapidly and efficiently meet the U.S. Marine Corps' future requirements and to support joint forces' ability to launch combat power from the sea. MSC is exploring a commercial approach to the AFSB, taking advantage of experience with the maritime community and industry's research and development capabilities.

Each ship would be provide a 1,000' flat helicopter launch platform with 2 aircraft elevators and 1 container elevator. The AFSB would holds 30 helicopters and 1,000 soldiers, with a 6-story modularized office space (TOC), along with a dry cargo area and an area for ammunition magazines. The forced-entry capability might consist of 12 UH-60 Black Hawk, 6 CH-47 Chinook, 6 AH-64 Apache Longbow, and 6 OH-58D Kiowa Warriors. In support it would have Aviation maintenance and FARP capability.

Because Special Operations Forces may not require the use of the AFSB vessel as often as carrier battle groups rotate through their deployment cycle, the Navy is interested in using the AFSB ship in other mission areas, most likely as a platform for experimentation with unmanned systems like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and as an element of new naval deployment concepts.

Military Sealift Command heads up the commercial lease and LMSR efforts, which seem most promising. In January 2002 the Army released a request for proposal through Military Sealift Command.

As of 2003 the Navy was examining several options for Afloat Forward Staging Base [AFSB] operations, ranging from pulling an aircraft carrier out of rotation, or to pursue one of several new options. One options is to use a Military Sealift Command-operated Army Large, Medium-speed Roll-on/roll-off (LMSR) logistics ship in the AFSB role. An existing LMSR could be converted, and there is an ongoing production line. A second option would be to delaying the de-commissioning of USS Constellation (CV-64), reducing its crew size and reducing its engineering load, taking her engineering plant down from four shafts to two shafts. A third option is to invest in a commercial platform, most likely leasing an existing commercial ship and paying the firm to modify the hull for the AFSB mission set.

Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) Container Ship Modification

The first concept discussed in 2003 was the lease and modification of a foreign commercial container ship. This COA is preferred by MSC, PM-3 as of mid-2003. On the pro side, this COA could be realized within 8 months by the commercial sector and leased for up to 5 years. Conversely, after 5 years, MSC must either pay to retro-fit the vessel to original configuration, or purchase the vessel. The major obstacle is the fact that these are foreign flagged vessels and there exists legislation that prohibits their purchase in the interest of protecting American ship-building Industrial base. If MSC intend to pursue this program more than five years, new construction or conversion of a US ship is the only option available.

The flight deck capabilities are divided by the pilot house super-structure located approximately 2/3rd distance to the rear. The forward flight deck is 660 feet long x 122 feet wide with spots for 10+ helos. The aft flight deck is 400feet long x 122 feet wide with spots for 5+ helos. Both flight decks are serviced by a separate elevator to the hanger deck. The hanger deck capabilities include parking space for 30 helos. Other interior areas of the ship accommodate billeting space for 1,000 soldiers, a dry cargo area for 180 TEUs, an ammunition magazine in the foc'sel, and a modularized six-story office for C2.

Maersk Line Ltd., the large maritime services company that operates a five-ship squadron of MPF ships for MSC, proposed an Afloat Forward Staging Base that would consist of a modification of the S-Class container ship. This 1,140 feet long vessel with a 140-foot beam could provide selective offload of cargo, berthing and support for 6,000 troops. The flight deck on top could launch and recover helicopters and, potentially, short take-off and landing, fixed-wing aircraft. It could support simultaneous operations by a dozen V-22 tiltrotor aircraft. The ship would use modular berthing, feeding, medical and administrative spaces and would incorporate a selective cargo discharge system, automating supply selection and distribution. Devised in cooperation with naval architects Gibbs & Cox and Norshipco, a ship conversion company, the ship could be fitted with a side ramp for roll-off operations. As of mid-2004 Maersk said the ship would be built at modest cost and in the water within 18 months of an order.

AFSB LMSR Conversion

The second option discussed in 2003 was the conversion of an MSC owned/ operated LMSR from the Surge Sealift Fleet, or new build AFSB modified LMSR. This COA was the only option available to support a long term requirement. An LMSR conversion affords immediate accessibility of the vessel currently located in the Ready Reserve Fleet (RRF). LMSR conversion would take about 30 months. Conversely, removal of an LMSR from the Surge Fleet will subtract from the 14 million square feet of strategic sealift requirement established by MRS (1992), confirmed by MRS-BURU (1995), and re-affirmed by MRS-05 (2001) which may necessitate the construction of a new LMSR. Compared with the LMSR conversion, a new build, specifically designed, AFSB LMSR could be provided in about 48 months. Current Surge Fleet lift would then remain as is.

In 2004 MSC's Contracts and Business Management Directorate awarded awarded a contract to design, build and install a selective container discharge system as part of potential sea-basing and afloat forward staging base initiatives.

USNS GYSGT F W STOCKHAM (T-AK 3017), a maritime prepositioning ship, was converted to an Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) in 2004. Between March and July 2004 MSC modified the USNS Stockham with additional capabilities to support the global war on terrorism. Modifications, at the request of Commander, US Pacific Fleet, included a 54-foot flight deck - capable of handling two MH-60 helicopters - a commercial-type aviation fuel system, a medical module, communications upgrades and watercraft. The mission required MH-60S Class 2 operations, with full servicing and maintenance and parking in an enclosed helo storage area. In May 2004 Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst participated in a ship check of the STOCKHAM. The conversion cost just $3 million.

Lighter Aboard Ship (LASH) Conversion

Waterman Line responded to the Army 2002 RFP and proposed a lighter aboard ship conversion [LASH] to meet Army needs. Key components of the conversion are: flight deck, helo hangers/storage, elevators, maintenance facilities, aircraft fueling and arming, berthing for 1,000, and support systems for command and control (C2). By converting an existing commercial vessel they will be able to have a militarily useful seabase platform within a few years.

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