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The Navy’s Expeditionary Sea Base, Strengthening Naval Power at Sea

By Captain Henry Stevens
Strategic and Theater Sealift Program Manager (PMS 385), Program Executive Office (PEO), Ships

During last week’s Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Norfolk, I discussed the versatility and impressive capabilities that the Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) platform will bring to our Sailors and Marines in the Fleet. USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3), the first of the ESBs, recently completed Initial Operating Test & Evaluation (IOT&E), bringing the Navy one step closer to augmenting its fleet with the enhanced capabilities of this platform.

USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) employs a flight deck for helicopter operations. T-ESB 3 is able to carry four MH-53E helicopters or five Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit Military Vans and still have room to maneuver and store other equipment.
USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) employs a flight deck for helicopter operations. T-ESB 3 is able to carry four MH-53E helicopters or five Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit Military Vans and still have room to maneuver and store other equipment.

 

For those of you unfamiliar with the shipbuilding process, many first-of-class Post Delivery Test and Trials milestones and IOT&E must be completed prior to handing a ship over to the Fleet. Over the past 10 months, the Navy’s first-of-class Expeditionary Sea Base USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) has demonstrated exceptional capabilities and inherent flexibility in a series of in-port and at-sea events at Naval Operating Base Norfolk, Va., and the Virginia Capes Operating Area.

USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) crew demonstrates launch and recovery of an Airborne Mine Countermeasures 7m RHIB. Three Airborne Mine Countermeasures RHIBs are launched during Airborne Mine Countermeasures helicopter towing operations. The ships Military Crew provides Material Handling Equipment operators to maneuver the craft on the T-ESB 3 mission deck and line handlers to control the boat while being maneuvered by the ship’s mission deck crane. Military Sealift Command provides Civilian Mariner crane operators and deck safety officer for this evolution. T-ESB 3 is capable of launching and recovering boats and sleds up to 25,000 lbs. through NATO Sea State 3 (SS3).
USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) crew demonstrates launch and recovery of an Airborne Mine Countermeasures 7m RHIB. Three Airborne Mine Countermeasures RHIBs are launched during Airborne Mine Countermeasures helicopter towing operations.

These events included:

  • A demonstration of the Underway Replenishment Fueling at Sea system
  • Launch and recovery of a 7m and 11m Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB)
  • Several cybersecurity-related events

Throughout the course of Post Delivery Test and Trials, T-ESB 3 also conducted various airborne mine countermeasures simulated missions, which included launch and recovery of:

  • Mk-105 magnetic influence mine sweeping sled
  • AN/AQS-24A mine hunting sonar system
  • Mk-103 mechanical mine, Mk-104 acoustic mine and the AN/SPU-1W magnetic mine sweeping systems.
The Post Delivery Test and Trials period began with the demonstration and certification of USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) for Underway Replenishment, Fueling At Sea. T-ESB 3 receives a double probe fuel STREAM rig from the fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8) in the Virginia Capes Operating Area.
The Post Delivery Test and Trials period began with the demonstration and certification of USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) for Underway Replenishment, Fueling At Sea. T-ESB 3 receives a double probe fuel STREAM rig from the fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8) in the Virginia Capes Operating Area.

The test period concluded in August with a final event required for all new construction ships to complete Initial Operational Test and Evaluation. The test, led by Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force and observed by the director, Operational Test and Evaluation, was designed to demonstrate the ship’s full operational capabilities and determine the operational effectiveness and suitability of the platform. The ship will now prepare for a Post Shakedown Availability, follow-on crew training, and testing of additional capabilities installed to support Special Operations Forces, which will take place through the spring of 2017.

 

The ESB is optimized to support a variety of maritime-based missions and is designed around four core capabilities: aviation facilities, berthing, equipment staging support, and command and control assets.  ESBs can also be enhanced to meet Special Operation Force missions through increased communications, aviation and unmanned aircraft system support.

USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) demonstrates the vertical replenishment with two aircraft:  MH-53E and MH-60S. The full vertical replenishment evolution consists of an approach, a hover over the designated area for a load hookup, a departure into one lap around the pattern with the load attached, a hover over the designated area for load drop-off and a departure. Tanks filled with sea water simulated actual loads.
USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) demonstrates the vertical replenishment with two aircraft: MH-53E and MH-60S. The full vertical replenishment evolution consists of an approach, a hover over the designated area for a load hookup, a departure into one lap around the pattern with the load attached, a hover over the designated area for load drop-off and a departure. Tanks filled with sea water simulated actual loads.

 

USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) demonstrates that the ship can launch and recover the Mk-105 magnetic minesweeping sled. The sled is lowered to the water prior to being attached to the MH-53E helicopter. Once in the water, Airborne Mine Countermeasures 7m Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats tow the sled away from the ship to where it’s connected with the MH-53E for its towing mission. The sled, which planes over the water on retractable hydrofoils, creates a magnetic signature to identify specific mine threats.
USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) demonstrates that the ship can launch and recover the Mk-105 magnetic minesweeping sled. The sled is lowered to the water prior to being attached to the MH-53E helicopter. Once in the water, Airborne Mine Countermeasures 7m Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats tow the sled away from the ship to where it’s connected with the MH-53E for its towing mission. The sled, which planes over the water on retractable hydrofoils, creates a magnetic signature to identify specific mine threats.

The ship has an aviation hangar and flight deck that includes four operating spots capable of landing MH-53E equivalent helicopters, as well as accommodations, work spaces, and ordnance storage for embarked force, enhanced command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence capabilities to support embarked force mission planning and execution, and reconfigurable mission deck area to store embarked force equipment to include mine sleds, rigid hull inflatable boats, and the Combatant Craft Assault.

For additional photos demonstrating the capabilities of the ESB platform, click here.

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