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.
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.
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
- AN/ASQ-232 Airborne Mine Neutralization System
- Mk-103 mechanical mine, Mk-104 acoustic mine and the AN/SPU-1W magnetic mine sweeping systems.
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 Rear Adm. Paul Sohl 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.
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.