Home » Aviation » Expeditionary Sea Base USNS Lewis B. Puller Departs for Maiden Deployment


Expeditionary Sea Base USNS Lewis B. Puller Departs for Maiden Deployment

The Military Sealift Command expeditionary mobile base USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) departs Naval Station Norfolk for its first operational deployment. Puller is deploying to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. Navy and allied military efforts in the region. US Navy photo.

The first-in-class Expeditionary Sea Base USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB-3) departed Norfolk on Monday for the Middle East for its first full operational deployment.

The ESB ship is a derivative of the Expeditionary Transport Dock (ESD) ship, but rather than ballast down to allow for surface connector operations like the original ESD design, it has a flight deck to support helicopter operations. Chesty Puller was originally built to support mine countermeasures operations using the MH-53E helicopter but has since been upgraded to support V-22 Osprey operations by Special Operations Forces.

The U.S. 5th Fleet commander will decide how to best use the ship once it arrives in the Middle East, but the Marine Corps has been vocal about its excitement to use Puller and future ESBs. The Marines use a CH-53E heavy-lift helicopter similar to the ones used for Navy airborne mine countermeasures, and it uses the MV-22 Osprey similar to the SOF-variant CV-22.

A statue of the ship’s namesake, U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, aboard the Expeditionary Mobile Base USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB-3). USNI News photo.

In December 2016 Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations Lt. Gen. Ronald Bailey told USNI News that the service would continue working with “alternate platforms” – ships beyond the traditional amphibious warships Marines deploy on – and specifically naming the Puller, to understand what other opportunities exist to get Marines and in particular their MV-22s out to sea. The service also worked with the Navy to certify the ESB to operate all Marine Corps unmanned aerial vehicles, creating even more opportunities for the Marines to leverage this new type of ship.

Puller conducted operations in North and South America during its transit from the San Diego-based General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard to its homeport in Norfolk. The ship departed San Diego after its June 2015 delivery to the Navy, sailed down to the Straits of Magellan at the southern tip of South America, and then returned back north to Norfolk, stopping along the way to conduct exercises with partner nations.

Sailors and Civil Service Mariners attached Military Sealift Command’s expeditionary mobile base, USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3), recover a Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB), May 16, 2016. MSC Photo

The Navy previously stated that Puller would replace the interim Afloat Forward Staging Base USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15), which has been serving a similar role in the Middle East since 2012, when it arrived in the Middle East. This week, however, the Navy would not discuss Puller and Ponce other than to issue a short statement: “USNS Puller departed Norfolk [Monday] for a scheduled deployment to [Commander, U.S. 5th Fleet]. USS Ponce continues to operate in the Fifth Fleet Area of Operations. We’re not going to talk about Ponce’s future operational schedule.”

The Navy’s second ESB, the Hershel Williams (T-ESB-4), and third, ESB-5, are under construction at NASSCO. Lawmakers are in the midst of developing the Navy’s 2018 spending plan, and so far there has been some support for procuring an ESB-6 next year.

  • sferrin

    Departs for maiden deployment and it’s already rusty. Wouldn’t see that in the Chinese navy.

    • Morduin00✓Fᵉᵈᵉʳᵃˡ ᶦˢᵗ

      Its camouflage. LOL

    • Rob C.

      There is such a division called “Side Cleaners” which includes chipping/painting if the crew get’s too bored. It’s Sea Base, there going have more people on it assigned than just the normal mix civilian / military crew.

  • Ed L

    It will be interested too see how they use the Puller

    • Rob C.

      I think their going to use her positional refueling base for helos to do patrols or deploy marines to hot spots that maybe too far for a Amphib with Helo capacities to each with their aircraft alone..

    • Frank Langham

      It is a generic, forward base … An operations annex … An ASW lily pad … A staging base … An EVAC hospital … A land, sea, air drone ops control center … ISO shipping containers can be inserted under the flight deck. … It is a small VTOL FOB with wide open config flexibility.

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    Did the budget omit paint?

  • Oldnavy

    Brand new? Looks like she hasn’t been cared for in two years already. Oh, never mind, she’s MSC…

    • Surfgun

      She was at sea for three weeks in June.

    • Frank Langham

      Already covered in surface rust … No worries because there will be plenty of grunts sitting around, on station, without much better to do than chip and paint.

      • Sidebottom

        Grunts don’t chip and paint, that’s what rustpickers are for.

  • Frank Langham

    In the Pacific, the ESBs can relieve LHD first responders, after disasters and provide ongoing triage and med-evac after the large combatants have established security and moved on to more pressing duties.

  • John Locke

    Another asset that will hog tie another unit for protection during hostilities. What do the bubbleheads call them ……… oh yeah, targets.

    • If by bubbleheads you are referring to submariners – then yes, we call everything that skims the surface a target. However should it ever become necessary to place USNS Lewis B. Puller in harm’s way, this former submariner would be proud to defend the ship that carries Chesty’s namesake and legacy from all who wish her ill – including enemy submarines. The best weapon against a submarine is another submarine.

      • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

        The ship is to be permanently stationed in the Persian gulf with the 5th fleet.

        Unarmed and unmissable.

        Not much point if it needs round the clock babysitting from a destroyer or submarine.

    • Charles Haas

      I imagine they could carry AH-1Zs as well as SH-60Rs if needed. The SH-60R would certainly be of concern for any submarine. The AH-1Z would keep any small boats at bay at least. They will also be useful in getting SOF units to their locations of course. And remember, in war, everything is a target.

      • Secundius

        “Romeo’s” have been suggested, but as a Later possible addition. A “Thermion” coating “Aluminum Oxynitride” (Al23O27N5) of the Flight Deck is planned for the Next Up-Grade for ALL Ship’s of the class. For use with MV-22 Osprey’s, though NONE are Scheduled to be “Billeted” on the Vessels…

        • RDF

          What language is that?

          • Secundius

            Chemical Composition on the Atomic Level…

          • RDF

            I am saying I don’t understand your comment. What is on all flight decks is non-skid. MV22 because of the exhaust temp and vector eats normal non-skid. So you are saying they will apply some coating to the deck, and then non-skid? Or they will apply this additional coating to the non-skid? That is what I do not understand.

          • Secundius

            NO!/? “Thermion”, aka “ALON”, aka “Aluminum Oxynitride”, aka “Al23O27N5” serves TWO Functions. As “Thermion”, it serves as a Thermal Barrier between the Down Wash Exhaust produced by Either the F/AV-35B or the MV-22. The Heat produced by BOTH aircraft’s produce Heat in excess of 3,092F. “Thermion” is rated at ~3,902F. “ALON” is a Ballistic Barrier ~1.6-inches thick (~41mm), can stop a .50-caliber Armor Piercing BMG round at Point-Blank Range. “Aluminum Oxynitride” is a Generic Name of the Produce, its a “Cermet” or “Ceramic/Metallic” Composite. Its also call “Transparent Aluminum”. As far as I know “Aluminum Oxynitride” DOESN’T offer a Non-Skid Surface. Not unless their adding “Sand” into the Mixture. SURMET of Boston developed the Material back in 1996…

          • RDF

            So this will replace standard non-skid application totally. At least in some deck spots? Thank you for the explanation.

          • Secundius

            Material is called “Thermion” or Aluminum Oxnitride. It’s an Arc Spray On Application to the Flight Deck that can withstand Temperatures up to 3902F…

  • USNVO

    The ESB is not a derivative of the ESD. It would be more correct to state that they are both derivatives of NASSCOs Alaska class Tanker.

  • Ed L

    The Puller needs less than 40 civilians to operate. Currently listing no Armaments mounted. That might change. I having trouble having to find information on Flag space abilities. Aviation facilities, etc.

    • Secundius

      NO “Official” Permanent Armaments with the exception of .50-caliber Heavy Machine Guns and whatever is Stored for the ~298 USMC Troops Billeted Aboard the Ship…

      • old guy

        Even the “Liberty” ships could fight.

        • Secundius

          Those that were armed, YES!/? But after WWII, very few if any Merchant Marine “Liberties” were Armed…

          • old guy

            Au contraire, The “national defense” provisions paid for 3″ bases to be installed on many ships.

          • Secundius

            Are you referring to the 16 “Liberty Ships” repatriated between 1955 and 1959 as Defense Picket Ships?/!

          • old guy

            NO, The N/D funded ships. Even the S.S. United states had these mounts. I don’t know about recent ships.

          • Secundius

            I think that was more of a Self Serving Political Ploy than anything else. In 1970 the “Merchant Marine Act of 1936” was amended to Outsource Ship to Foreign Flags. At the END of WWII (official date 31 December 1946) the US Merchant Marines had a Fleet Strength of ~2,480-ship. By 1970, the US. Merchant Marines had dropped to ~175 Actual USMMS plus ~245 Privately owned ships. Of those ONLY 153 meet the Criteria as written in the “Jones Act of 1920”. As of 2003, ONLY ~195 US Merchant “Flagged” Ships remain, of those ~50 are actually US Merchant Marine Vessels. Meeting the “Jones Act” criteria. The US Merchant Security Act of 1996 was suppose to change that, IT HASN’T. The Revised US Merchant Marine Act of 1970, only allow for the Gun/Missile Mount Emplacements on US Merchant Marine Ships ONLY. Privately-Owned Ships in US Livery under Foreign Registry are “Excluded” from Gun/Missile Mount Emplacements. Thank the US Congress for their “Diligence and Hindsight”…

          • old guy

            Right on. Thanks.

          • Alicia Maloney

            AGR’s them was. been there

          • Secundius

            OK!/?

        • Secundius

          According to the Columbia Law Review Volume 16 Number 6 dated 1916 pages 496-499: Armed Merchant Marines follows into 3 categories: 1. Privateers, 2. Auxiliary Cruisers (aka Surface Raiders) and 3. Defensively Armed Trading Vessels. The “Latter”, allows for “Small” Temporary Mounting’s of 35mm bore diameter or less…

    • So how many maidens do you figure that they will deploy in her?

  • Jim DiGiacomo

    If it were a Russian vessel it would probably have ASMs, SAMs, CIWS and a 100mm gun.

  • LowObservable

    No CIWS or SeaRAM?

    • Rob C.

      She a USNS, there not suppose to be armed with major defense systems. She suppose to be civilian auxiliary vessel. It’s just cheap vessel for other assets to be used behind enemy lines while freeing up combatants for other things.

  • Rob C.

    She finally getting deployed into a hot zone-ish area. I just hope they keep some assets nearby for her. I do think the Navy will have someone near by. I think she going be a Refueling base for helos mainly, since she doesn’t have huge hangar space. At heart, she still a tanker with modestly large flightdeck on her.
    Only thing is I was on fully commissioned Auxiliary ship, frankly I felt better she had her old ww2 twin 3 inch guns on it than not having but a machine gun to fend such things like off Iranian Revolutionary Guards small craft trying to harass the ship I was on periodically.
    She technically better design than the what was suppose to be used as a Sea base. Large Barges like Oil-Rig size airfields being pushed around where they were needed. As attractive as the initially design appeared, it was even BIGGER, more EXPENSIVE and VULERABLE target than Puller is.

    • jaque sprat

      this ship is going to be another uss pueblo

  • joe tenaglia

    It is an unarmed logistics floating base for US Marines/Navy/Spec Ops Expeditionary forces whose mission is to facilitate ship to shore movement of forces in contingency operations. iIs commercial design, civilian crew, and lack of a self defense capability makes it a lucrative target for any adversary. Like all unarmed, civilian crewed, commercially designed MSC vessels it is a set up for a disaster in time of war.

  • old guy

    Wouldn’t it be nice if it could work with LCACs on a continuous flow basis? C’mon kids MIC-9s and the like are out; HOVERCRAFT ARE IN.Design for them or get a new job.

    • Charles Haas

      The ship is designed to lower into the water to allow LCACs onto the lower deck, which is have the reason it is called a sea base. RoRo ships can also come alongside and transfer equipment on board to be placed onto LCACs, completing the sea base concept. I could easily imagine as many as five LCACs traveling with the ship at all times.

      • Secundius

        Also at least one JHSV is expected to be assigned with Each Vessel and Possibly Mk.VI Patrol Boats as well. US Army has been asked to Contribute to the Force with their, soon to be built L-CAT-33’s (32.6-meter) Catamaran MSV’s LCM-8 replacements…

      • old guy

        My guys, in1977, designed a sea base carrier that had continuous loading of LCAC-type hovercraft; no well decks, lowering junk or the like. Just clever, high utility design.

      • old guy

        WhenI checked this was not so. They could load over the side but not take them on. Please clarify. Thanks

        • Secundius

          Actually he was Right!/? The vessel was specifically designed to Lower Itself to Allow assigned Vessels to either Come-On or Take-Off without the use of a Specialized Crane. On a side note, “Chesty Puller” is being modified as replacement for Laser Test Ship USS Ponce. Info on BOTH can be found on “Wikipedia”…

      • old guy

        I defer to greater knowledge.. I would like, however, to see a photo of it with the lower deck awash. That seems like a very dangerous state to be in, with any kind of sea state.

  • old guy

    Chesty and Bud must be spinning in their graves over their namesakes.

  • old guy

    Another useless ship of the “SWIPE” program. NO, we’ll call it the “HA HA” class. Hardly A Huge Asset.