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SNA 2014: Navy Eyes Osprey Flights for AFSB Fleet

An artist's conception of the Afloat Forward Staging Base. USMC Photo

An artist’s conception of the Afloat Forward Staging Base. USMC Photo

Navy leaders are in the midst of a series of studies to see whether the MV-22 can be flown off the sea service’s expected fleet of Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB) ships.

Officials at Naval Sea Systems Command are in the “study stages on [MV]-22 integration” aboard the first AFSB under development, Capt. Henry Stevens, head of Strategic and Theater Sealift program, said Thursday.

The current program of record has tagged the MH-53E Sea Dragon mine countermeasure as the main aviation asset for the Navy’s forward staging base ship.

Testing and qualification for MH-53E ops aboard the initial AFSB ships are slated to begin in fiscal year 2016, Stevens said during a briefing at the Surface Navy Association’s 2014 symposium in Crystal City, Va.

“We are already locked in on that and starting off,” Stevens added, regarding the upcoming helo tests aboard the ship.

But the possible multi-mission capabilities the forward staging bases could provide the Navy and other services has prompted program leaders to explore other options outside the Sea Dragons.

“Now [the Navy] is asking us what else we can do,” in terms of air capability, according to Stevens. “And it is great to be part of those conversations.”

Stevens’ comments come as the Navy is still running into issues with integrating the Osprey and F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) onto its amphibious fleet.

Deck damage issues related to jet engine downwash from the Osprey and F-35 have long plagued the Navy’s efforts to get those aircraft aboard the large-deck amphibs.

The B variant of the F-35 is a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft that produces much more heat when it lands and takes off than the current AV-8B Harrier fighters currently flown off of big deck amphibs.

Likewise, the exhaust heat from the nacelles of the Osprey has damaged flight decks in the past.

On Thursday, Stevens dismissed plans to integrate the JSF onto the AFSB noting that program leaders were fully focused on getting the MH-53E, and possibly the MV-22, qualified aboard the forward staging base ships.

  • fog643

    Does this ship operate only in areas w/ no enemy air/navy/ missile capabilities? Otherwise, how do we propose to defend it? At what cost? What current capabilities will we reduce/eliminate in order to pay for this program?

    • Geoff

      Shhhhh! You’re not supposed to ask questions like that!

      It gives the USMC Ospreys and F-35s a deck to launch from, for missions they don’t have, that other airframes could do better and cheaper…otherwise, does nothing a honking big barge can’t do for a lot less cost and risk.

      • Porty1119

        You’re quite right. As I recall, we flew numerous Special Operations helos off barges in the Gulf in the 80s and 90s to excellent effect.

  • C-Low

    This is for the low end work the navy currently sends first rate billion dollar destroyers, anphibs, and carriers to do.

    E & W coast of Africa hunting pirates and training locals to use their gunboats to maybe one day handle their own business. Africa is also turning into the SOF Olympics now that the Stan is tooling down. S America chasing drug smugglers and their fast boats, aircraft, and cocaine subs.

    In both theaters these ships with minimum stinger type air defense and the wiz can can defend themselves from the limited enemy assets. If a nation state decides to go for it then in short order the CVN’s and more will be a calling.

    The V-22 makes sense if you needed the range, especially it was in the role of raids inland. The F-35B maybe in Africa if those V-22 are sent somewhere they may require a cap, or if you needed to put some JDAMS at range, one or two F-35B could be useful

    Africa/S America doesn’t warrant a US Carrier and rarely requires a anphib, this ship maybe just what the doctor ordered. Compared to deploying a carrier battle group or anphip ready group it is a bargain.

    • Geoff

      Base sticker price for the Alaska class tanker hull they’re repurposing for this is a half billion. Add in the