Home » Budget Industry » 2nd Expeditionary Sea Base USNS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams Delivers to Navy

2nd Expeditionary Sea Base USNS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams Delivers to Navy

The Military Sealift Command expeditionary mobile base USNS Lewis B. Puller (T-ESB 3) departs Naval Station Norfolk to begin its first operational deployment on July 10, 2017. US Navy photo.

The Navy’s second afloat base for special operations and mine countermeasure forces has delivered to the service, according to a Thursday statement from Naval Sea Systems Command.
USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams (T-ESB-4) entered service with Military Sealift Command during a Thursday ceremony in San Diego, Calif.

“The delivery of this ship marks an enhancement in the Navy’s forward presence and ability to execute a variety of expeditionary warfare missions,” Capt. Scot Searles, strategic and theater sealift program manager within Program Executive Office (PEO) Ships, said in a statement.

The ship is the fourth hull built by General Dynamics NASSCO based on the Alaska-class oil tanker design and designed to augment the Navy’s fleet of maritime sealift and amphibious warships. The first two hulls, USNS Montford Point (T-ESD-1) and USNS John Glenn (T-ESD-2), were built as expeditionary transport docks that could ballast down into the water and act as an intermediary to transfer vehicles from cargo ships to Navy landing craft. The expeditionary sea base ships, ESBs, are based on the same design but, instead of ballasting down for surface connector operations, have a large flight deck for rotary wing operations and large cranes for small boat and unmanned vehicle operations.

Williams follows the first ESB, USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), which began operating in the Persian Gulf last year following the retirement of Afloat Forward Staging Base USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15). Due to the nature of its Persian Gulf missions, Puller‘s designation was changed from USNS to USS when it entered U.S. 5th Fleet.

“Potential missions, such as mine countermeasure operations and special operations forces staging, must be conducted by a warship under the law of armed conflict,” a Navy spokesman told USNI News last year.

Last week, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said the service would like Williams to operate in the Mediterranean Sea.

Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams provides remarks as the featured speaker during the groundbreaking ceremony for a new Gold Star Family Memorial at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, on Sept. 28, 2017. US Air Force photo.

“I would like to see that ship there, because I think if I were [U.S. Africa Command commander Marine Corps Gen. Thomas] Waldhauser, [U.S. European Command commander Army Gen. Curtis] Scaparrotti, that would give me a great deal of flexibility in terms of where I could go or what I could do and maneuver around with the ship and the capability it has,” Neller said last week.

It’s unclear if Williams would also have to change its designation to USS from USNS.

While the class was originally developed for SOF and MCM applications, NAVSEA developed modifications for the ship-type to operate Marine MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft from its flight deck.

Delivery of Williams comes on the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima. The World War II battle was where the ship’s namesake, Marine Corps Reserve Chief Warrant Officer 4 Hershel Williams, performed actions that resulted in him receiving the Medal of Honor.

NASSCO is currently building the future USNS Miguel Keith (T-ESB-5), and the Navy hopes to buy a fourth in Fiscal Year 2019, according to its recent budget request.

The following is the Feb. 22, 2018 announcement from NAVSEA.

SAN DIEGO — The Navy accepted delivery of its second Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) ship, USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4), Feb. 22.

Delivery marks the official transfer of the ship from the shipbuilder to the Navy. ESB 4 will be owned and operated by Military Sealift Command.

“The delivery of this ship marks an enhancement in the Navy’s forward presence and ability to execute a variety of expeditionary warfare missions,” said Capt. Scot Searles, Strategic and Theater Sealift program manager, Program Executive Office (PEO) Ships. “Like the ship’s namesake, USNS Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams will exemplify the Navy’s commitment to service.”

USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams is named for Medal of Honor recipient, Hershel Williams. During the battle of Iwo Jima, then- Cpl. Williams bravely went forward alone against enemy machine gun fire to open a lane for the infantry. Williams continues to serve his fellow men and women in uniform through his foundation, the Hershel Woody Williams Medal of Honor Foundation, established to honor families who have lost a loved one in service to their country.

ESBs are highly flexible, modular platforms that are optimized to support a variety of maritime based missions including Special Operations Force, Airborne Mine Counter Measures operations, humanitarian support and command and control of traditional military missions. The ESBs include a four spot flight deck, hangar, and a versatile mission deck; and are designed around four core capabilities: aviation facilities, berthing, equipment staging support, and command and control assets. The ESBs will operate as the component commanders require, providing the fleet with a critical access infrastructure that supports the flexible deployment of forces and supplies.

USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams was constructed by General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego. NASSCO is also constructing the future USNS Miguel Keith (ESB 5).

As one of the Defense Department’s largest acquisition organizations, PEO Ships is responsible for executing the development and procurement of all destroyers, amphibious ships, special mission and support ships, and boats and craft.

  • DaSaint

    So if MCM and SOF have to operate from warships by law, then why weren’t they proposed and designated as such from the start? Maybe to fool Congress regarding the authorizations?

    • MarlineSpikeMate

      MSC is so much cheaper, and the lines keep getting blurred more and more. Look at the USS Ponce or USS Mount Whitney.

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    Its a real shame that these ships cannot lower and allow MCM vessels or special forces boats come on board.
    And without that ability, having a small 11-tonne crane is no compensation.

    • Bill

      The article explained the first two ships do just what you say, while the second two feature a large flight deck.

      • SvD

        That is right, but makes one wonder, why not having both? The flight deck is well above the water.

    • NavySubNuke

      I don’t know – the crane and expanded flight deck offers a wider range of possibilities for the entire Naval force. Particularly if the ship has a magazine that can store SMs, TLAMs, ESSMs, and LRASMs and the cranes have enough reach to cover a DDGs entire VLS magazine.
      Being able to reload our DDGs and SSNs in any coral atoll in the pacific is a huge plus in my book and our two remaining SSN tenders are not enough to get the job done on their own.

      • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

        You can find images of the lower deck crane on google.
        It couldn’t do resupply of something like that.
        It’s pretty small as mentioned at 11 tonnes & reach seems to be only about 10m.

        Opportunity lost I think

      • Ed L

        Reloading magazines underway sucks.

        • NavySubNuke

          Transiting all the way from the South China Sea to Australia, Diego, or Hawaii to reload because everything closer has been flattened by surface to surface missile strikes sucks worse.

    • publius_maximus_III

      What about a stow-able ramp with a floating outrigger on the end, sort of like the loading ramps you can pull out of the end of a U-Haul truck? The end of the ramp would be submerged enough to make it possible to “fly” a hovercraft up it, or for a tracked amphibious vehicle to climb it. Or maybe a huge conveyer belt with cleats to raise and lower landing craft from the waves. Thinking out of the Ship here….

  • William Blankinship

    Is this a war ship? If so it should be USS and not USNS.

    • MarlineSpikeMate

      See USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3). Legality is strange with these ships, as the missions (such as mine-hunting) can push them more towards the realm of a commissioned warship.

      The ESB-3 was commissioned for this fact, YET a hybrid crew still remained with engineering, bridge and deck operations run by civilians…

      • William Blankinship

        If war should break out they will be targets. I was on the USNS Vanguard in the late 60’s. It tracked Apollo spacecraft and of course it had an all civilian crew. Now it did have a “crypto” communications room on board 🙂

        • MarlineSpikeMate

          Right, both USS or USNS will be equally targeted despite legalities.

          • William Blankinship

            My late father in law was a Merchant marine crewman on a “Y” class tanker in the Pacific during WW11. I asked him did they had deck guns on board. He said yes but they did not work 🙂

    • Rocco

      Sorry but if you were on one why would you ask?

  • publius_maximus_III

    Nice General Dynamics aerial photos of the real USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams available on gcaptain-DOT-com. Search for the string “nassco-delivers-sea-base-usns-hershel-woody-williams-to-u-s-navy” — sorry, cannot post hypertext links here.

    • Curtis Conway

      Thanks for the tip. That is a good shot.

    • SvD

      The pictures there are downsized but the original is sometimes on the servers. Open them in a new tab and delete the -800×533 at the end of the URL and you get the full-size version.

      The second picture has some epic resolution of 5616×3744 pixels.

    • Secundius

      Got “Redacted” too, huhhh…

      • publius_maximus_III

        Nah, not redacted. USNI News has prohibited hypertext links in the comment section ever since I can remember. Must be something Discus subscribers can turn on and off. Some websites allow, some don’t.