By Emelie Rutherford

The Navy is poised to award a contract to General Dynamics [GD] NASSCO for materials for the first Mobile Landing Platform (MLP), a key connector ship planned for seabasing.

“It’s significant,” Capt. George Sutton, the MLP program manager, said Tuesday about the vessel’s role in the Navy’s recently restructured plans for maritime prepositioning forces. The service recently canceled previous plans for a new Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future) squadron of ships, and now is working to improve capabilities of existing Maritime Prepositioning Ship (MPS) squadrons.

The MLP “is primarily to enhance the maritime prepositioning squadrons,” Sutton told reporters at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Md.

New plans for the MPF(F) increment 1 call for three MLPs and three T-AKE auxiliary dry-cargo ship, he said.

The current concept of operations calls for MLPs to receive equipment and personnel at sea from Large, Medium-Speed, Roll-on/Roll-off Ship (LMSRs) and then transfer that cargo to ships such as Landing Craft Air-Cushion (LCAC) vessels and Joint High Speed Vessels that travel to land, he said.

The service plans to buy three MLPs from General Dynamics that are based on the Alaska-class crude-oil carrier and have been modified to be float-on, float-off vessels.

The San Diego shipbuilder has “this parent design and are doing the modification as we speak,” during the current system-design phase of the shipbuilding effort, Sutton said.

“We’re looking for commonality with the T-AKE with propulsion systems and auxiliary systems, as well as the HVAC–the heating, ventilating, air-conditioning system–and leveraging the design that was already in place,” he said.

The service plans to award General Dynamics a long-lead-time material contract for the first MLP this summer, followed by a detailed design and construction deal for that first ship next year, in fiscal year 2011, he said.

General Dynamics will then receive construction contracts in FY ’13 for the second MLP and FY ’15 for the third ship, he added

“These ships will provide concept validation, operational testing and an incremental operational capability,” Navy officials said in written congressional testimony this year. “Operationally, the three current MPS Squadrons will have an additional MLP and an additional T-AKE to supplement the current maritime-prepositioning force in order to better provide in-theater capability to support resupplying a (Marine Expeditionary Brigade) MEB.”

The Navy conducted a “highly successful” test of the MLP, using a surrogate ship, early this year in the Gulf of Mexico, Sutton said. He showed reporters video footage Tuesday of an MLP-like ship receiving vehicles transferred from a LMSR, and then connecting with a LCAC ship.