Saturday, March 14, 2015

Military Sealift Command and Innovation: New Platforms and Avenues for Meeting Navy’s Needs

By Rear Adm. Kevin C. Hayes
Deputy Commander, Military Sealift Command

This day in 1964, our Navy commissioned USS Sacramento (AOE 1) at Seattle, Washington. She was the first ship that combined the characteristics of an oiler, ammunition and supply ship. Anyone familiar with the current class of fast combat support ships can see the enduring value of fast, one-stop shopping for our combatant vessels at sea.

Sacramento (AOE-1), the first of a new class of underway-replenishment ships designed to provide fuel, ammunition, freight, and provisions to the fleet at sea. Bigger than most battleships of World War II, and comparable in size to many aircraft carriers of that period, her high speed makes it possible for Sacramento to operate as an integral part of a fast carrier task force. In one seven-month deployment to Vietnam, she provided rapid, versatile support to naval forces in that theater; cargo and passengers were transferred in alongside replenishments and by heavy-lift cargo helicopter on 583 different occasions.

Today’s Navy still puts a premium on the innovative design and use of new ship platforms, but it’s no secret that we operate in a tough fiscal environment. Budget realities mean leaders must provide the best possible bang for our nation’s buck while still meeting emergent requirements worldwide. As Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert outlined in his Sailing Directions, our number one priority is warfighting.
Military Sealift Command is a strong enabler for Navy and Marine Corps warfighting and this innovation mindset. In particular, the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) platform represents one centerpiece of the seabasing concept that will permit our forces to operate away from the shore, ultimately supporting special forces missions, counter-piracy/smuggling operations, maritime security operations and mine clearance, as well as humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions.

The Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)
Keeping with MSC’s emphasis on innovation, in early 2012, MSC converted USS Ponce from an amphibious transport dock ship to an AFSB-I (Interim) that deployed to U.S. 5th Fleet roughly six months after work began. Ponce’s work in the region – which included acting as a base for mine-sweeping MH-53E Sea Dragons in the Persian Gulf as well as serving as a test bed for the deployment of the Navy’s new Laser Weapon System – continues to the present. The ship’s success is a terrific example of looking beyond a ship’s original design to leverage new capabilities.
The recently christened USNS Lewis B. Puller, expected to deliver later this year, is the first of three permanent vessels specifically designed as AFSBs and are built on the same hull as our new mobile landing platforms. Together, with several other vessels that MSC operates, Puller will give the Navy and Marine Corps team fresh, forward-based options for these critical missions.
To be sure, Puller and its sister AFSBs are no replacement for amphibious warships. They are intended for relatively secure maritime environments, where they can perform tasks that free up amphibious ships for their intended purpose – high-end warfighting.
Despite this caveat, Puller is an impressive at-sea home for warfighters and their equipment. Our Navy and Marine Corps demand innovative, cost-effective platforms like Puller. MSC will continue to provide the proven, expert operation of these vessels so warfighters can do their jobs.

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