Decades after the idea was broached for a floating, mobile base to support operating forces in the Persian Gulf, the concept has suddenly shifted into high gear, and a sense of urgency is driving both new U.S. ship construction and conversion of an existing vessel.
The U.S. amphibious ship USS Ponce is to be converted as a base
minesweeping helicopters, patrol boats and special forces based in the
[size=1" color="#666666](Photo by U.S. Navy / released for public)[/size]
A new Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) is mentioned almost in passing within the Pentagon budget briefing on Jan., 26.
Development funding will be provided, the document said, for a new AFSB “that can be dedicated to support missions in areas where ground-based access is not available, such as countermine operations.
”Elsewhere, under “industrial base skills,” the documents noted that, “for example, adding the afloat forward staging base addresses urgent operational shortfalls and will help sustain the shipbuilding industry in the near-term and mitigate the impact of reducing ship procurement in the” budget.
“This fulfills a long-standing requirement from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), going back to the Tanker Wars of the late 1980s,” said Capt. Chris Sims, a spokesman for U.S. Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, VA.
Sims was referring specifically to a recent decision to modify the amphibious transport dock ship Ponce into an interim AFSB able to support minesweeping MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters.
The ship will be operated jointly by active-duty Navy officers and sailors, and by government civilian mariners employed by Military Sealift Command (MSC) — a hybrid crew similar to those used on the Navy’s two submarine tenders and the command ship Mount Whitney.
Beyond the conversion, though, the Navy now plans to build at least one, and possibly two, AFSBs.
U.S. Navy officials would not publicly confirm the new construction, but sources confirmed the service plans to modify the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) design to take on the AFSB role.
Three MLPs have been funded for construction at the General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding (NASSCO) shipyard in San Diego.
The ships are large, 765-foot-long vessels able to float off small landing craft,
tugs or barges.
For the AFSB role, a fourth MLP hull would be modified with several decks, including a hangar, topped by a large flight deck able to operate the heavy H-53s in the airborne mine countermeasures role.But the AFSB will also be able to carry Marines, support patrol and special operations craft, and fuel and arm other helicopters.
The ship is expected to be requested in 2014.
Tags: U.S. Navy, Pentagon, Afloat Forward Staging Base, AFSB
Location: Washington, District of Columbia, United States (load item map)
Marked as: approved
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