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Navy, Marine Corps Build New Sea-Basing Ships

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are preparing to take final delivery of the first of several new sea-basing platforms designed to increase forward presence and allow the services to operate without needing a pier, port or land-staging area, service officials said.

The Navy plans to build four new sea-basing ships to include two Mobile Landing Platforms, or MLPs, and two modified MLPs configured into what the Navy calls Afloat Forward Staging Bases, or AFSBs.

With a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan ending and the U.S. rebalancing to the vast waterways of the Pacific, the Navy and Marine Corps are examining their expeditionary strategy.  Officials have said they want to increase forward presence, improve amphibious equipment and provide new platforms for sea-basing air and maritime assets.

“We’re looking at this as being adaptive and creative,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Walsh, director, expeditionary warfare division. “The effort is infused with a mind to how we can use platforms in new ways and increase the mission possibilities for these new ships.”

The Navy’s first Mobile Landing Platform, or MLP 1, recently completed contract trials and is slated for final delivery in March of next year. The MLP is a massive 80,000-ton, 785 foot-long commercial Alaska-class crude oil carrier configured to perform a range of military missions such as amphibious cargo on-load/off-load and logistics support.

The ship is engineered to ballast down and lower into the water. This allows three Landing Craft Air Cushion, or LCACs, lanes for amphibious loading and unloading as well as equipment transport. The MLP has as much as 25,000 square feet of vehicle and equipment storage space on deck, Walsh explained.

MLP 1, called the USNS Montford Point, was put under contract for construction by the Navy in April 2011, resulting in a  deal to General Dynamics owned National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, or NASSCO, in San Diego, Calif. MLP 1 is slated to cost $500 million, Navy officials said.

MLP 2, the USNS John Glenn, is now 96-percent complete and slated for delivery in March 2014. MLP 2, expected to cost $440 million, was also put on contract with NASSCO in April, 2011.

The MLPs can also connect to large cargo ships while at sea using a drivable ramp, allowing equipment to move from a cargo ship to the MLP for transport to shore.  Walsh explained that MLPs are designed to augment amphibious assault ships and help move large conventional forces from ship to shore – in the event they are needed.

The MLPs are designed to assist forward-positioned equipment and cargo ships called Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadrons.

“Now you can get stuff off the cargo ship and get the cargo onto the MLP. The LCACs can come onto the MLP and get the gear to shore. This gives you an amphibious landing capability,” said Walsh.

He said the MLPs and AFSBs can help free up Amphibious Ready Groups and Marine Expeditionary Units to perform other essential task.

“This is to create that ability to be on the scene first -- whether that is building relationships, doing humanitarian assistance or being ready to scale up for major conventional operations,” Walsh added. “The Commandant and the [Chief of Naval Operations] asked the Naval board to look specifically at what are the assets out there and how can we use them more effectively to support and augment the amphibs that are already out there.”

MLP 3 is the first Afloat Forward Staging Base, or AFSB, which includes re-configured MLP with command and control technologies and a flight deck added on for maritime air operations.  The need for the AFSB emerged out of a requirement from Central Command for countermine and Special Operations Forces staging in the Persian Gulf area, Walsh said.

The AFSBs also house small, fast boats for various conventional and special operations missions as well.

An amphibious transport dock, the USS Ponce, is performing this mission now on an interim basis. The plan is for the AFSB to replace the USS Ponce when it is ready by the end of 2015. However, the first AFSB may wind up getting assigned somewhere else, depending up global demand, Walsh said.

A deal for MLP 3, called USNS Lewis B. Puller, was signed in Feb., 2012, Navy officials said. The Navy said the cost for MLP 3, which is now 36-percent complete, would be $623 million.

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