Shipbuilder General Dynamics National Steel & Shipbuilding Co. – NASSCO – will christen the USNS Lewis B. Puller (MLP 3 AFSB) Saturday, February 7, 2015 in San Diego.
General Dynamic’s NASSCO arguably has the most diverse and enviable shipbuilding backlog in the U.S., with its navy and commercial orderbook stretching out for three years. Its new ship, the USNS Lewis B. Puller, is the third vessel of the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) class, the first of which to be configured as an Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB).
NASSCO balances a newbuild and repair workload with the U.S. Navy while simultaneously amassing arguably the strongest commercial orderbook, a commercial backlog which includes eight tankers and two containerships, the latter being the world’s first LNG-fuelled containerships for TOTE.
“To me the key is having that ‘open kimono’ approach with the customer,” Kevin Graney
, VP & GM at NASSCO, told Maritime Reporter & Engineering News in December in explaining how NASSCO is able to juggle a navy and commercial workload in the same facility, a feat that many shipbuilders have tried and failed. “Whether they are government or commercial customers, it’s about getting the details nailed down as soon as possible.”
Graney said he is particularly proud of the company’s performance on the U.S. Navy’s MLP, two of which are delivered with the third, USNS Lewis B. Puller, to be christened by Martha Puller Downs, the daughter of the late Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller
for which the ship is named, who will break a champagne bottle against the ship’s hull as the ship’s sponsor at the February 7 ceremony.
“There were a lot of commercial best practices that we incorporated into the MLP program and it worked great,” Graney said. “So here we are, we have a lead ship – a navy lead ship – delivered with only 2.5% re-work, which is unheard of in the Navy: fixed price, on schedule, under budget. So we took a commercial model, applied it on the government side and made it work.”
While the Lewis B. Puller is the third in the series, in some respects it has lead ship qualities as it is designated MLP 3 / AFSB, the first to be equipped with a flight deck, a hangar and accommodations for about 250 people. This variant is designed to conduct mine countermeasure warfare with the Navy, with space available to support special ops.
The third ship’s flexibility and affordability comes courtesy of its flight deck, a flight deck which is geared towards helicopters, but can also support as many as four MV22’s, according to a recent study of the space. So with its lift capacity, flexibility and price tag, the ship is viewed as a tremendous value for the investment.
According to the builder, the MLP AFSB is capable of supporting missions including counter-piracy operations, maritime security operations, humanitarian aid and disaster relief missions and Marine Corps crisis response.
“The MLP is really like the Ford F150 pick-up truck; you can put anything you want in the bed; in this case we put a flight deck on it,” Graney said. “It is a versatile platform, and it’s exciting for us because the demand signal looks in our favor. This was a three-ship program a few years ago; we’re in the process of negotiating the fourth ship; and this year the Navy put in a fifth ship. We’re keeping our fingers crossed on that fifth ship.”