Let’s take an updated look at the Mobile Landing Platform, MLP, vessel program, once the hottest thing in the Navy but now largely quiet. The MLP, you’ll recall, is intended as a mobile, floating pier allowing cargo transfers between large transports and smaller vessels or connectors. In addition, the Navy has developed an Afloat Forward Staging Base, AFSB, variant of the MLP which incorporates an elevated flight deck. The base MLP is built on a commercial oil tanker hull and is 764 ft long with accommodations for 250 personnel. The ships will be operated by the Military Sealift Command, hence the USNS designation.
To date, four vessels are complete or under contract with two configured as MLPs and two as AFSBs.
MLP-1 USNS Montford Point 2013 delivery
MLP-2 USNS John Glenn 2014 delivery
MLP-3 / AFSB USNS Lewis B. Puller 2015 delivery
MLP-4 / AFSB USNS ?? 2018 delivery
I’ve scoured the media for MLP contract announcements and here is the contract history.
Mar 2009 $3.5M MLP design
Dec 2009 $7M ?
Apr 2010 $10M ?
Aug 2010 $115M long lead items for MLP-1
May 2011 $744M addition to contract for first two MLPs
Jul 2011 $60M long lead items for MLP-3
Feb 2012 $360M MLP-3
Jun 2013 $11.2M MLP-3/4 design work
Dec 2013 $21.4M MLP-3/AFSB
Mar 2014 $128M contract addition to convert MLP-3 to AFSB
Jun 2014 $64.1M long lead items for MLP-4
Dec 2014 $498M MLP-4 as AFSB
Total = $2.022B
So, as best I can piece together, here are the individual ship costs.
MLP-3 / AFSB $581
MLP-4 / AFSB $498
The higher price for the second pair is understandable as they have the AFSB additions.
There are no concrete plans for additional ships, as far as I know and the continuing budget limitations probably preclude any additional vessels.
As far as usefulness, I’ve heard remarkably little, good or bad, about the ship’s performance and utility. Of course, to be fair, the first vessel is just now achieving operational status so there has been little chance for hands on experimentation. USS Ponce, which was converted to a makeshift AFSB, was reported to be quite useful in the MCM mothership role.
This is a vessel and concept that I’m somewhat dubious about. The cargo transfer function seems like an unnecessarily inefficient extra step that ought to be addressed by designing larger ships with the ability to transfer cargo directly to connectors. The MLP also represents an enormous vulnerability. If the bulk of an amphibious assault’s cargo must pass through the MLP, that would make the ship a very high priority target and a single point of failure for the entire assault. Regardless, having only two (or four if the AFSBs are counted) MLPs seems woefully insufficient to support a major amphibious assault.
|MLP - The Jury Is Out|
As an MCM mothership, I’m sure the ship would be very useful but I’m also sure that a smaller, dedicted, purpose built MCM mothership would be a better option for that role.
As with the JHSV, this seems to be a ship design that lacks a clearly defined and necessary mission.
The ultimate value of the ships will lie in how the Navy chooses to use them and for that we’ll have to wait and see.