Clarification: A previous version of this post included an out-of-date artist’s conception of the Lewis B. Puller.
General Dynamics NASSCO laid the keel for the U.S. Navy’s first dedicated design for an afloat forward staging base (AFSB) on Tuesday in the company’s San Diego, Calif. shipyard, according to the company.
The planned USNS Lewis B. Puller (MLP-3/AFSB-1) will eventually replace the current AFSB USS Ponce (AFSB-(I)-15) — currently on patrol in the Persian Gulf — by 2015, according to the Navy.
Based on the hull of an Alaska-class crude oil tanker, Puller will act as a low cost base for mine counter measure (MCM) helicopters and special operations forces. The 764-foot ship will field an extremely large helicopter deck and accommodations for up to 250.
Born from a long-standing request from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the AFSB is a low cost option to deploy forces for low-intensity operations without tying up the resources of an asset that costs more to operate.
The Navy plans to eventually field two AFSBs, likely one in the Middle East and a second in the Pacific.
Both MLPs and AFSBs will be operated by the Military Sealift Command (MSC).