ESB 1 Montford Point-Class
Expeditionary Sea Base [ESB]
Expeditionary Transfer Dock [ESD]
Mobile Landing Platform [MLP]
Intermediate Transfer Station (ITS)
The Navy plans to commission all of its Expeditionary Sea Base ships Megan Eckstein reported in USNI News 21 January 2020, compared to original plans for them as Military Sealift Command ships with a USNS designation. The USS warship designation will now allow these platforms to move beyond transporting special forces, mine countermeasures teams or Marines to actually employing their lethal capabilities – pushing SOF teams ashore for operations, blowing up a mine in the water, launching helicopters for strikes, and more. When USS Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller (ESB-3) deployed to U.S. 5th Fleet in 2017, the Navy decided to commission that one seabase as a warship while en route to the Middle East due to expected missions and conditions in that particular region.
“They were initially envisioned to be USNS ships, but we already commissioned Puller, and we’re going to commission Woody Williams here in another couple weeks or so, and then (ESB) 5 will be commissioned at some point in the near future,” Program Executive Officer for Ships Rear Adm. Bill Galinis said at the annual January 2020 Surface Navy Association conference. He noted the future USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB-4) was finishing its post-shakedown availability maintenance period in Norfolk, Va., ahead of a deployment later this year, and that the future USS Miguel Keith (ESB-5) delivered in November and was undergoing post-delivery trials now off the West Coast.
The Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) is based on commercial float-on/float-off (FLO/FLO) technology to provide a surface interface between large medium-speed roll-on/roll-off (LMSR) prepositioning ships and landing craft air cushion (LCAC) surface connectors. The MLP is a major component to the Navy-Marine Corps solution for enhancing Maritime Prepositioning Squadrons (MPSRONs) throughput capability by expanding operating environments and access opportunities. The MLP is approximately 730 feet in length with a beam of 165 feet –– more than a third wider than most ships––making it an extremely stable platform for sea base operations.
MLP 1 and 2 will provide an elevated vehicle staging area and three LCAC lanes (barriers, lighting, wash-down, and fueling services) to allow for transfer of equipment at sea in non-anchorage depths and delivery from over-the-horizon (OTH) through restricted access environments.
The MLP, based on a Float On Float Off (FLO-FLO) design, shall be developed primarily to provide a surface interface between other ships and connectors within a seabase. The MLP mission requirements/major functions are to project a Marine combat unit and its equipment via LCACs or EFVs Transport six LCACs. Accommodate Marine combat unit of 728 personnel. Interface with MPF(F) LMSR, JHSV and other displacement type surface assault crafts to facilitate equipment, cargo and personnel transfer in sea base.
The MLP supports the critical mission requirement to launch and recover surface assault craft loaded with vehicles, cargo and combat personnel by providing two LCAC stowage lanes (two craft interface points), RO/RO cargo holds of sufficient size to accommodate one-third of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) Surface Battalion Landing Team(BLT) vehicles and accommodations for the combat troops being transferred ashore on the assault craft. The MLP is a U.S. flagged new construction ship classed in accordance with American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) Steel Vessel Rules (SVR) standards and designed and built in conformance with Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requirements, unique military features and other commercial and regulatory body rules and regulations as applicable.
The Core Capability Set (CCS) is a suite of mission components that can be installed and removed from the Mission Deck of an MLP ship. The Mission Deck extends from the forecastle to the deckhouse and spans the width of the ship. The CCS enables MLP ships to transfer vehicles and equipment at-sea, from Large Medium-Speed Ro-Ro (LMSR) ships, and interface with surface connectors including Landing Craft Air-Cushion (LCAC), Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), and the Improved Navy Lighterage System (INLS), to deliver the vehicles and equipment ashore. Each CCS includes the following major components:
- Lane Barriers and support services for three LCAC lanes
- Raised Vehicle Deck (RVD) with vehicle services, integral fender walls and ramp to Mission Deck
- Stowage and handling systems for Government Furnished Property (GFP) Vehicle Transfer Ramp (VTR)
- Catwalks to provide personnel access and service routing from the ship to the RVD and LCAC lanes
- Port bulwark and stand-alone fender wall
- Deck fittings for securing LCACs, fenders (primary, secondary, and JHSV), fork truck container, and the MLP utility boat.
Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) Core Capability Sets (CCSs) are designed in accordance with American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) Steel Vessel Rules and other regulatory body requirements and provide facilities for transferring vehicles and cargo from Large, Medium-Speed, Roll-on/Roll-off (LMSR) ships to Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC). Interface with the LMSR to transfer vehicles and equipment is accomplished via a Vehicle Transfer Ramp (VTR) that connects the CCS Raised Vehicle Deck (RVD) to the LMSR side port platform. The RVD is comprised of seven major sections, each independently installed and supported on the mission deck of the MLP and are provided with a Helicopter Landing Facility that meets the requirements of NVIC 9-81 and 46 CFR 108 for day and night helicopter operations. The MLPs and VTRs are provided as government furnished property.
The MLP ship class fills a critical role by enabling US forces to be delivered safely and effectively around the world using mobile, sea-based strategies in areas where secure harbor facilities ashore are not readily available. By remaining at sea as floating, logistics support bases, these ships enhance the independence of US forces to operate near global hot-spots without entering their ports.
The MLP class initially belonged to MSC’s Maritime Prepositioning Ship Force as a mobile sea-base option that provides the Navy fleet with a critical access infrastructure supporting the flexible deployment of forces and supplies. Contract mariners under charter to MSC operated and navigated the MLP ships on behalf of the Navy and Marine Corps.
Designed to increase inter-theater agility, the MLP is ready to support warfighters wherever and whenever needed. MLP is a highly flexible ship class that provides logistics movement from sea to shore supporting a broad range of military operations. Leveraging float-on/ float-off technology and a reconfigurable mission deck to maximize capability, the MLP provides a seagoing pier when access to on-shore bases and support are unavailable. The platform includes add-on modules that support a vehicle staging area, vehicle transfer ramp, large mooring fenders and up to three Landing Craft, Air Cushioned vessel lanes to enhance its core requirements.
Notably, the MLP can operate up to 25 miles from shore and transfer equipment at sea with 1.25-meter waves and when its mission deck is removed, it can serve as a semi-submersible platform, offering salvage and point-to-point capabilities as well. These 60,000-ton vessels can potentially move ships as large as a Navy destroyer (DDG).
NASSCO’s design of the Expeditionary Support Base (ESB) — formerly known as the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) — provides full support for U.S. Navy minecountermeasure operations; however, there is much more that this platform can be designed to do. The Initial Design and Naval Architecture Department (IDNA) has developed ESB variants that will support forward-deployed vessels in peacetime and in crisis.
Three of the potential variants include the Underwater Support, Global Fleet Station, and Enhanced Connector Support vessels. The Underwater Support vessel adds moon pool capability to the existing ESB. By providing access from the Mission Deck through ship structure to the water below, this variant can deploy special-operations or mine-countermeasure submersibles in an environment that is protected from both rough weather and unwanted surveillance by interested observers. The Global Fleet Station offers operational and maintenance support of forward-deployed vessels. This variant is able to dry-dock and perform routine maintenance on ships including the LCS 1, LCS 2, and JHSV. The Enhanced Connector Support vessel restores MLP-CCS capability to the ESB. This alternative supplements existing aviation capabilities with three sheltered LCAC lanes, vehicle space, and improved interoperability with displacement landing craft. Each of these ESB variants can enhance the effectiveness of the seabase by increasing operational reach and supporting joint operations. For forcible entry, nothing but an amphibious ship will do. For everything else, there’s ESB and its variants.
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