The US Navy’s Mobile Landing Platform Ships (MLP)
The Montford Point Class Mobile Landing Platform is intended to be a new class and type of auxiliary support ship, as part of the US Navy’s Maritime Prepositioning Force of the Future (MPF-F) program. They’re intended to serve as a transfer station or floating pier at sea, improving the U.S. military’s ability to deliver equipment and cargo from ship to shore when friendly bases are denied, or simply don’t exist. That’s very useful in disaster situations, and equally useful for supporting US Marines once they’re ashore.
It’s an interesting and unusual concept, one closely connected to the au courant concept of “seabasing”. The final MLP design changed substantially from the initial requirements, which lowered the platform’s cost along with its capabilities. Time will tell if the initial choices and tradeoffs were well-conceived or not. With contracts to build the ships underway, the remaining question is whether the ships can be built to meet the more limited promises that are being made now.
Seabasing & MLP: Concept and Execution
In brief, the idea behind “seabasing” is that a chain of supply transfer ships could support special ships and floating platforms at sea. This setup could then could be used to transfer cargo between ships, or to fast transports, medium and small lighterage for transport ashore.
Those offload functions are normally performed in ports, which will always have a higher capacity than any ship. On the other hand, ports aren’t always there where and when you need them. Resolving that issue has usually meant loading up ships, landing what you can ashore, and then sorting things out there. Sometimes, it even involves building temporary ports. That’s expensive, and requires a lot of specialty ships. If those functions could be moved offshore, the resulting flexibility makes it easier to support a force ashore, and adds the option of using standard cargo ships in situations where port unloading isn’t an option.
The MLP has been delayed by shipbuilding, redesign and budget issues, but small-scale experiments in 2006 and beyond have been conducted with other ships. They indicate that the overall seabasing concept is feasible. The question is how to back that concept with ships.
The MLP is supposed to be about bout 800 feet/ 250m long, but built to commercial standards rather than combat vessel standards. The ships will be about 34,500 tonnes, with a top speed of about 20 knots, and a range of around 9,000 nautical miles at most efficient speed. The Navy intends to build a total of 3 ships for $450 – 500 million each, with the 1st delivery expected in 2015.
Initial requirements included the ability to land helicopters, the ability to embark and launch LCAC/SSC hovercraft, and the capability for ship-to-ship transfer of equipment from large-draft prepositioning ships to other vessels, including T-AKE supply ships. The final MLP design has been altered from that baseline. The helicopters were removed, and so was the TAVTS system for vehicle transfer. What’s left is a ship with 3 berthing spots for hovercraft, and the ability to transfer items only to other ships with sideport ramps, in waves up to Sea State 3.
That’s actually a fairly limited set of capabilities. US NAVSEA explains its choices:
“The platform in its basic form possesses add-on modules that support a vehicle staging area, sideport ramp, large mooring fenders and up to three [hovercraft] lanes to support its core requirements. The February 2010 Test Article Vehicle Transfer System (TAVTS) demonstrated a self-deploying ramp system and a new self-deploying sideport platform that successfully transferred vehicles between a surrogate MLP (outfitted with a dynamic positioning system) and a LMSR (T-AKR 317) into sea state 4. The program of record MLP will still transfer at sea vehicles and equipment with the LMSR but will use a skin-to-skin/fendering operation that will be capable of operating through sea state 3. The program is also currently pursuing an enhanced surface connector interface capability that will permit the MLP to operate with Navy and Army displacement craft like the Landing Craft Utility (LCU). Additionally, the ship will have utility services support to the 80K sqft mission deck that will enable the flexibility to incorporate potential future platform upgrades to include capabilities such as embarked force berthing, medical, command and control, mission planning, connected replenishment, a container handling crane, NAVAIR certified aviation operating spots, and the TAVTS capability described above.
…fixed troop berthing and a more robust fixed aviation capability… were removed in subsequent designs in order to significantly reduce the cost of the vessels…”
Seabasing, Ancillaries & the MPF-F
Those less-expensive LCUs, and the “surface connector interface” (i.e. lighterage and floating piers) mentioned above, are important but largely neglected aspects of maritime transfer, especially for advanced evolutions like seabasing attempts. Seabasing’s ultimate effectiveness is heavily dependent on how many “connectors” like LCUs, and “connector interfaces” like lighterage, cranes, and ship-ship transfer options, are present within the force. The problem is that carrying capacity for LCUs, LCAC hovercraft, etc. is always limited in amphibious ships. Which means that it takes a lot of expensive amphibs to move enough of the “connectors” into the operations area, and there may not be enough of them based “off ship” in the particular area they’re needed. Likewise, there aren’t enough spots on Maritime Prepositioning Ships for all the INLS lighterage needed for scalable theater entry operations.
NAVSEA appears to have shortchanged these aspects with the MLP and its designated LCAC accompaniment. They say that they’ve left the possibility of adding some of them back later, alongside more specialized capabilities. In reality, subsequent modifications are always more expensive, and the limitations inherent in key design decisions aren’t easily reversed. On the plus side, MLP’s ability to submerge decreases the relative motion problem for offloading in waves, and its modern dynamic positioning system should improve standoff distance significantly.
Then again, a simpler commerical float-on, float-off (Flo-Flo) ship variant could also achieve this, with higher throughput, at less cost. The price would have involved fewer specialized capabilities like berthing, helicopters, or medical and command functions – unless these were incorporated into barges as a form of float-on “mission module,” similar to the MOBASE concept used during the Vietnam war. It’s worthy of note that America’s armed skirmishes with Iran in the 1980s also used modified barges as a way of successfully holding naval territory in the Persian Gulf, giving the concept applicability to modern challenges like piracy, and the control of maritime chokepoints.
Even so, the MLP’s biggest risk factor lies beyond its own design, cost, or industrial arrangements. The Maritime Prepositioned Forces-Future (MPF-F) is supposed to be the first step into “Seabasing,” but the bottom line is that it has come out on the short end in future budget planning. Given the resources planned within the future fleet, and the current mismatch of committed programs vs. likely funding, it remains very doubtful whether the US Navy will be able to execute sea basing beyond conventional peacetime maritime engagement roles.
MLP budgetary commitments and requests have included:
FY 2010: $120 million, all advance procurement.
FY 2011 request: $380 million, all procurement (1 ship).
FY 2012 request: $425.9 million, all procurement (1 ship + advance procurement).
Contracts & Key Events
Unless otherwise noted, US Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington, DC manages these contracts, and General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. (NASSCO) in San Diego, CA is the contractor.
Jan 19/12: Formal keel-laying for MLP 1.
GD NASSCO touts their “design-build” approach that assigned the company’s most experienced shipbuilders within functional engineering and detail design teams, and touts the 67% reduction in ship cost vs. the original plans. Those original plans involved a much more tricked-out ship, though, and in the end, the real question is whether NAVSEA’s specifications and choices leave the Navy with a design that will provide enough extra help for the money that is paid. Design-build certainly helps, but most of those decisions are, as they say, above NASSCO’s pay grade. GD NASSCO.
Jan 4/12: Naming. US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announces that the 3 planned MLP ships will be named the USNS Montford Point, the USNS John Glenn and the USNS Lewis B. Puller. Per the USNS designation, they will be operated by US Military Sealift Command, not the Navy.
Montford Point was the North Carolina facility where 20,000 African American Marines were trained from 1942-48.
John Glenn is indeed the world-famous astronaut, US senator, etc.
Lewis B. Puller is best known by his nickname. USMC Lt. Gen. “Chesty” Puller remains the most decorated Marine in history; and to this day, the hero of Haiti, Nicaragua, World War 2 and Korea remains a kind of touchstone example of everything a Marine should be. The British Royal Navy’s continued relationship with Lord Nelson, centuries after the Battle of Trafalgar, would be an appropriate comparison.
Aug 3/11: General Dynamics NASSCO picks Converteam to provide the complete electric power, propulsion, and vessel automation system for the MLP. Converteam already provides these systems for many of the USA’s newer all-electric ships: the DDG 1000 Zumwalt class destroyers, T-AKE supply ships, the USS Makin Island [LHD 8] amphibious ship, and the related LHA 6 America escort carrier.
Converteam’s solution will include the tandem propulsion motor powered by variable frequency drives, as well as the harmonic filters, generators, high voltage switchboards, transformers, automation, an azimuthing thruster that can be swiveled for dynamic positioning, and the associated thruster drive and motor. Converteam.
June 30/11: A $60 million contract modification to buy long lead time materials for MLP Ship 3. This means items like main diesel generator engine components, integrated propulsion components, steel, emergency generator, propeller, pumps, and other components that must be ready to go early, in order to keep construction on schedule.
Work will be performed in Pittsburgh, PA (29.7%); Beloit, WI (27.7%); Chesapeake, VA (13.9%); San Diego, CA (7.7%); Bremen, Germany (3.3%); Iron Mountain, MI (3.3%); Houma, LA (3.2%); Allendale, NJ (2.3%); Hamburg, Germany (2%); Crozet, VA (1.9%); Busan, Korea (1.7%); Warminster, PA (0.8%); North Tonawanda, NY (0.6%); and Bramalea, Canada (0.5%), with other efforts performed at various sites throughout the United States (1.4%). Work is expected to be complete by December 2014 (N00024-09-C-2229).
June 30/11: Go-ahead. The US Navy gives the go-ahead for MLP 1 production, following a successful readiness review that the design of MLP was more than 85% complete. NAVSEA’s release adds that: “The Navy worked very closely with NASSCO to identify cost savings early in MLP design work while pursuing a concurrent design and production engineering approach.”
May 27/11: MLP 1/2 contract. A $744.1 million contract modification for detail design and construction of 2 mobile landing platform ships: ships 1 & 2.
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (62%); Mobile, AL (7%); Pittsburgh, PA (6%); Beloit, WI (5%); Crozet, VA (2%); Chesapeake, VA (2%); and Belle Chasse, LA (1%), with other efforts performed at various sites throughout the United States (8%) and outside the United States (7%). Work is expected to be complete by February 2014 (N00024-09-C-2229). See also NAVSEA PEO Ships release.
Aug 13/10: MLP 1 lead-in. A $115 million contract modification for long-lead time materials and advanced design efforts for Ship 1 of the Mobile Landing Platform program.
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (27.1%); Pittsburgh, PA (18.2%); Beloit, WiI (11.2%); Chesapeake, VA (9.2%); Crozet, VA (8.6%); Busan, South Korea (7.1%); Santa Fe Springs, CA (4.3%); Iron Mountain, MI (2.8%); Houma, LA (2.5%); Hamburg, Germany (2.4%), Bremen, Germany (1.8%); Allendale, NJ (0.9%); Mobile, AL (0.9%); Houston, TX (0.7%); North Tonawanda, NY (0.7%); Wageningen, The Netherlands (0.4%); Knoxville, TN (0.4%); Annapolis, MD (0.3%); and various other locations (0.5%). Work is expected to be complete by April 2012. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington Navy Yard, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-09-C-2229). See also FBO solicitation.
July 26/10: Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA] requests a $100 million earmark for General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, CA, in order to fund long lead material for the program’s 2nd and 3rd ships. The stated goal is to lower and lock-in costs, and avoid “substantial workforce disruption” at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard. This request would provide funding to the contractor earlier, it would not add additional funding to the existing program of record. Washington Watch.
April 7/10: A $10 million modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-09-C-2229) for System Design Part 2 efforts associated with the Mobile Landing Platform program.
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (58.2%); Beloit, WI (7.3%); Busan, South Korea (5.7%); Pittsburgh, PA (5.6%); Houston, TX (5.0%); Annapolis, MD (4.0%); Norfolk, VA (2.0%); Belle Chasse, LA (0.7%); Mobile, AL (0.5%); New York, NY (0.4%); Deerfield Beach, FL (0.2%); Georgetown, SC (0.2%); Houma, LA (0.2%); Clovis, CA (0.1%); New Orleans, LA (0.1%); Rochester, NY (0.1%); Stevensville, MD (0.1%); Ogden, UT (0.1%); Old Saybrook, CT (0.1%); Pensacola, FL (0.1%); and other various locations. Work is expected to be completed by August 2010. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The, is the contracting activity. See also FBO solicitation #N0002410R2302.
Feb 15/10: The US Navy completes an at-sea exercise to demonstrate the transfer of vehicles between a surrogate MLP ship and a Large Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off (LMSR) ship.
The test demonstrated a self-deploying ramp system installed on the M/V Mighty Servant 3, and a new self-deploying sideport platform installed on the LMSR ship USNS Soderman. Personnel and vehicles were successfully transferred between the ships in high sea state 3 and low sea state 4 over multiple days of testing in the Gulf of Mexico. Vehicles transferred included HMWVVs, HMWVVs with trailers, MTVR medium trucks, LVS wreckers, amphibious assault vehicles, M88 tank recovery vehicles, and M1A1 main battle tanks. US Navy.
Dec 22/09: A $7 million modification to a previously awarded contract, exercising an option for System Design Part 2 efforts associated with the Mobile Landing Platform Program.
Work will be performed in San Diego (70.6%); Busan, Korea (8.5%); Wageningen, The Netherlands (5.7%); Arlington, VA (4.2%); Franklin Square, NY (2.3%); Tucson, AZ (2.3%); and other various locations (6.4%). Work is expected to be completed by May 2010. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-09-C-2229).
FY 2010: Sen Diane Feinstein [D-CA] requests a $40 million earmark to release $40 million to GD NASSCO earlier than planned. With $40 million in advance appropriations, General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, California says it can can save the government $210 million on the first ship by locking in prices for raw materials, and allowing NASSCO to proceed further in the design phase. Washington Watch.
Feb 17/09: A $3.5 million design contract for System Design Part 1 the U.S. Navy’s MLP program. Under the contract, NASSCO will develop a preliminary ship design based on Navy requirements.
NASSCO believed that a contract for the detail design and construction of up to 3 ships could be awarded next year, and a pair of 2009 and 2010 contracts did follow for those services. General Dynamics NASSCO | Aviation Week.
March 21/08: A sea basing exercise takes place off the coast of Liberia, as part of Africa Partnership Station’s West Africa Training Cruise (WATC) 08. This marks the first time INLS is used successfully at sea to transport cargo from ship-to-ship and from ship-to-shore.
As a first step, sailors from Military Sealift Command’s USNS LCpl Roy M. Wheat [T-AK 3016] used their cranes and equipment to assemble the roll-on/roll-off discharge facility at sea, about 5 miles off of Liberia’s coast near Monrovia, and set up the Improved Navy Lighterage System causeway ferries. Once the INLS was assembled, cargo including trucks, equipment and humanitarian aid supplies were ultimately transferred at sea from T-AK 3016 Wheat, USNS 2nd Lt. John Bobo[T-AK-3008], and the amphibious landing ship USS Fort McHenry [LSD 43] to MSC’s chartered high-speed catamaran Swift [HSV-2], which was docked at the constructed RRDF. Swift then ferried these humanitarian aid supplies to the Liberian port of Monrovia, where they were used to make deliveries to to a number of schools and medical clinics.
The vehicles were loaded directly from T-AK 3008 John Bobo to the INLS using cranes etc., then transported over water using INLS causeway ferries to the USS Fort McHenry [LSD 43] where the ship’s crew and the members of Assault Craft Unit 2 attempted to dock an INLS structure into an amphibious transport’s rear well deck for the first time. Once the Sailors secured the INLS components in the well deck, members of the 4th Marine Logistics Group simply drove the vehicles off the platform rolling directly into the ship’s interior staging area.
While Fort McHenry’s crew worked on that exercise, T-AK 3008 John Bobo moored next to the INLS RRDF causeway. Once the exercise aboard LSD 43 was complete, the Marines reloaded the INLS and departed USS Fort McHenry to rendezvous with John Bobo, proving the ability to carry vehicles and cargo in the other direction from amphibious well decks to supply ships. Once the roll-on, roll-off discharge facility and causeway ferries were all together again, High Speed Vessel 2 Swift moored next to John Bobo, ready to receive Marine vehicles and supplies via the ramp module for transport to Monrovia. US MSC | US EUCOMM | USMC | Information Dissemination.
March 14/08: US Navy PEO Ships’ Strategic and Theatre Program Office (PMS 385) holds an Industry Day regarding the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP). FBO Daily.
Jan 31/08: MacGregor USA Inc. in Cedar Knolls, NJ received a $19.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for the detail design, fabrication, installation, and documentation of the Test Article Vehicle Transfer System (TAVTS). The TAVTS will demonstrate the transfer of vehicles between a surrogate Maritime Prepositioning Force Future (MPF-F) Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) ship and a Large Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off (LMSR) ship. The 2 primary components of the TAVTS are a self-deploying ramp system that will be installed on a dynamically positioned surrogate MLP, and a self-deploying sideport platform that will be mounted to an existing LMSR ship, either a T-AKR 300 Bob Hope Class or T-AKR Watson Class. Reader and US MSC veteran Lee Wahler comments that they have serious challenges ahead of them:
“MacGREGOR collected many millions to build and install the swinging boom cranes on many sealift ships. Now they will be paid to design fixes to those ships (2nd rqmt) because the principal design failure was that the MacGREGOR ramps were not self-deployable (and of course the big expensive swinging boom cranes which the MacGREGOR ramps needed, do not work to quickly with any lesser loads – as proven by USNS Martin OT&E). Now they are going to fix the ramp interface problem, by putting some contraption (1st rqmt) on the already over-designed MLP… Pls remember that ship designers’ have been trying to fix the ramp interface problem for decades – unsuccessfully.”
Work will be performed by MacGregor in Chesapeake, VA and Cedar Knolls, NJ, and with MacGregor USA affiliates in Poland, Sweden, and Norway, and is expected to be complete by November 2009. This contract was competitively procured, with proposals solicited via FedBizOpps, with 2 offers received by Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC (N00024-08-C-2222).
Sept-Oct 2006: Two Military Sealift Command ships perform a unique at-sea demonstration 20 miles off Norfolk, VA, for the US Navy’s PEO-Ships.
In this experiment the USNS Red Cloud, a 950-foot large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off ship laden with combat vehicles and trucks, was paired with Military Sealift Command’s chartered MV Mighty Servant 3, a 594-foot semi-submersible, heavy-lift ship. Both ships were moored together while underway while vehicles were offloaded from USNS Red Cloud onto a surrogate ‘pier in the ocean’, driving down the Red Cloud’s side ramp onto Mighty Servant 3, and then onto hovercraft ships that carried them ashore and back from the Mighty Servant 3′s semi-submersible deck. The demonstration follows a September 2005 experiment involving the USNS Watkins and the charter ship Mighty Servant I. US MSC.
- US FedBizOpps (July 8/08, #N0002408R2270) – 19–Mobile Landing Platform (MLP)
- Scribd (upload March 2/10) – USMC MLP Slide
- USN PEO Ships – Mobile Landing Platform. Actually a 2011 release.
- DID – LCAC Hovercraft: US Navy’s Champion Schleppers Get SLEPped. MLP’s essential companions.
- US Navy Fact File – Landing Craft, Mechanized and Utility – LCM/LCU. A step down from LCAC in flexibility, speed, and cost.
- DID – Whatever Floats Your Tank: the USN’s Improved Navy Lighterage System
Seabasing & the MPF-F
- PEO Ships – PEO Ships Brief to NDIA [PDF]. Early briefing, covers the MPF-F as a whole and includes MLP.
- Congressional Budget Office (November 2004) – The Future of the Navy’s Amphibious and Maritime Prepositioning Forces. Notes that the Navy’s current plan risks industrial and capacity shortfalls.
- Information Dissemination – Sea Basing category.
- Information Dissemination (June 1/09) – Amphibious Operations and Sea Basing
- DID (Aug 30/08) – Seabasing Grant to SeaTech Institute