After undergoing extensive modifications, the Alaskan class oil tanker referred to by the military as the Expeditionary Mobile Base USNS Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, made its’ departure on June 10th from Norfolk, headed towards the Middle East– with no return date scheduled and a lengthy deployment anticipated. This is the first time that this insanely large portable military base is being departed on a mission with no definitive return in sight.
This is the first time that a purpose-built sea military base has been employed out in the field by the Pentagon. That is why its’ departure is the beginning of a new American era where the Navy will have a consistent projection of abroad power.
The platform performs a variety of functions, having the capabilities of accommodating a helicopter within the DoD arsenal for deployment or entertainment with its impressively spacious flight deck and hangar space. The mobile military base even includes the astounding MH-53E Sea Dragon mine countermeasures aircraft. In fact, the Puller has the ability to operate four MH-53’s simultaneously, while multitasking in order to deploy other devices- such as sleds and detonators- meant to pull behind the Sea Dragon when conducting mine-hunting missions.
The Sea Dragon is also equipped to deploy unmanned aircraft and small boats that further assist with the mine-detection warfare and special operations.
The gaping “mission deck” of the Puller contains an expansive storage room, intended to hold vessels and cargo that is out-sized. This is all while receiving various types of enormous upgrades planned for the near future.
More than likely, the primary goal of the Sea Dragon is to carry out mine sweeping missions as it heads to the Middle East, but it is expected that the Puller will be used to execute additional missions, such as participating in amphibious attacks and providing support for special operations, aquatic control, counter-piracy missions, interdiction and disaster relief. They are even well suited to participate in low-intensity kinetic missions, providing support for attack aircraft, which includes swarms of small boats. Even more, the entire concept surrounding the ships’ particular class is that it is capable of adapting to practically any situation that can be created by a commander’s wildest dreams.
The Puller, accompanied by the sister ship USNS Hershel Williams, will have tens of years to display their potential to serve in a multi-role capacity while making its’ rounds at multiple locations abroad, like the South China Sea, but at the current moment, the Puller is best situated in the center of the Persian Gulf. Nine months back, the 46-year-old Austin class Amphibious Transport Dock, USS Ponce, which was modified in order to serve as a forward staging military base temporarily, has departed the Persian Gulf station after four years of operating primarily as a counter-mine warfare platform.
It wasn’t until after a freshet of anti-ship arsenals were launched against vessels belonging to the US; did Saudi and UAE in an attack that the Ponce relocated to the Gulf of Aden. It remained in the general vicinity surrounding the Horn of Africa until the middle of Spring, although it may currently be found in the Persian Gulf. Nevertheless, the Ponce is scheduled to be decommissioned in October in Norfolk.
Should the Puller indeed take up its’ station in the Persian Gulf- it also has the option of settling in the Horn of Africa until the Ponce is on its’ way back home- it will not be a quiet or hidden occasion. Just the enormous size of the vessel, measuring 764 feet and weighing 78 tons, makes it a sight easy to behold.
The mobile international military base Naval ship is a representative of unimaginable upgrades in size over the Ponce alone, which features 570 feet of length and 16,000 tons of weight. The ship is also differentiated from warships and tankers that transit the region frequently by its’ height and uniquely styled platform layout.
Much different from the Ponce, which is equipped with small boats, two Phalanx close-in weapon systems and a semi-experimental laser that intended to be used against aerial attacks in self-defense, The Puller has absolutely no profound self-defense ability whatsoever.
Neither does it possess an electronic warfare system, or even defensive countermeasures in order to non-kinetically protect itself from attacks. This calls into question the vulnerability of the expansive ship, especially since anti-ship weapons are being fielded more and more by non-state entities. Additionally, the Persian Gulf has emerged as a massive anti-ship missile engagement zone, with the coastline of Iran occupied by naval missile systems of a wide assortment.
It remains a possibility that the Navy could deploy, at some point, vehicle-mounted or containerized weapon systems aboard the mobile military base, Puller. As a matter of fact, this trend is becoming increasingly popular, with the capabilities of fielding modular point air defenses as well as being equipped with deck gun-like abilities, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and guided artillery rockets, all of which can be derived from the deck or anywhere else.
The Puller is a very impressive sea-based military base and is definitely spacious enough to house these systems, and because permanent integration of the core stems of the ship is not required, swapping out and upgrading the systems is easy, which depends on the threat profile and the particular mission at hand. As a matter of fact, the USMC and Navy rolled out an M1161 Growler light vehicles, while previously improvising this setup, equipping them with heavy machine guns positioned on the USS Carter Hall’s stern while traveling to the Black Sea by way of the Bosphorus.