ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Several officials from Program Executive Office (PEO) Ships spoke at a conference last about what they have been able to accomplish and how the Navy is evolving its designs as it moves towards a 355-ship goal.

Clif Mitchell, deputy program manager of PMS 385 (Strategic and Theater Lift) said his office has two main production lines open: the Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) and Expeditionary Transfer Dock (ESD)/Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB), which was formerly MLP. He spoke on a panel at the annual NDIA Expeditionary Warfare Conference, in Annapolis on Thursday.

The USNS Lewis B. Puller, (T-ESB 3), the first Expeditionary Mobile Base in the formerly Mobile Landing Platform program. Photo: General Dynamics.
The USNS Lewis B. Puller, (T-ESB 3), the first Expeditionary Mobile Base in the formerly Mobile Landing Platform program. Photo: General Dynamics.

Mitchell said eight EPFs have been delivered so far, while the USNS City of Mismark (EPF-9) has been completed and is expected to be delivered to the service around December. EPF-9 completed its builder’s trials last month in the Gulf of Mexico (Defense Daily, Sept. 15)

Meanwhile, ESB-4 was recently commissioned and construction on ESB-5 is set to begin in January with an expected spring 2019 delivery.

The Navy has deployed the USS Lewis D. Puller (ESB-3) in the Fifth Fleet area of operations, where it replaced the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) (AFSB(I)) USS Ponce. The Ponce was relieved because it was reaching the end of its service life (Defense Daily, Aug. 17).

The ESB ships are designed to support maritime missions like Special Operations Forces, airborne mine countermeasures, counter-piracy, maritime security operations, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, and crisis response.

Mitchell noted that no other ESD/ESB ships are under contract but that Congress is considering an ESB-6 as part of the FY 2018 budget via some committee language. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern, waiting to see what happens there and we’re ready to move out and execute that ship” if it comes to pass.

He highlighted his office’s performance in delivering 10 battle force ships in under four years and being on track with six more being built, under contract, or being completed all with an office size of about 40 personnel.

When considering the Navy’s 355-ship goal, Mitchell said in light of that, “I think this is a nice little niche of ships.”

He said he thinks part of why they have been able to crank these out at a “very affordable cost” is because they had success using commercially modified designs.

Rear Adm. William Galinis, PEO for Ships, said he often calls the 90,000-ton EPF the Swiss Army Knife of the fleet, able to flexibly support and conduct numerous missions sets for the combatant commands.

“It’s incredible with the different mission sets that the combatant commanders are identifying with these ships.”

Galinis noted the Navy is starting to get feedback on the Puller and will process lessons learned to see what to work on for future ships of the type.

Capt. Brian Metcalf, Program Manager of PMS 317, covering San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks (LPDs), compared the features in the congressional-mandated additions to LPD-29 and to LPD-27. He said the newest vessels will feature many capabilities set to be incorporated on to LX(R), making it an evolutionary advancement.

Metcalf also noted the USS John P. Murtha (LPD-26) is set to deploy in 2019, the future USS Portland (LPD-27) is set for an April 2018 commissioning and winter 2018-2019 post-shakedown availability, LPD-28 is about 8 percent complete after a keel ceremony earlier this month, and LPD-29 is set to be awarded in December with delivery planned for 2023.

Changes in the new ships include mobile cranes on the flight and well decks, larger boat valley, ramp modification in the well deck, somewhat smaller vehicle and cargo space to accommodate a well deck and ramp, and updated weapons.

Notably, LPD-28 and 29 will feature a stick mast for radar cross section (RCS) rather than full capabilities. Metcalf said this was because the facility that made the former composite mast was closed. He said it is a different result, with different radar and wind envelope changes.

Galinis said the new mast has little impact on RCS and that this kind of evolutionary change is a good way to create a new ship class through modifying a proven design on a hot production line.