The newest vessel in the Corps' amphibious arsenal carries the name of its most iconic Marine — and it is ready for action.
The first Afloat Forward Staging Base — the Lewis B. Puller — was delivered to the Navy in San Diego on June 12. The staging base is a variant of the Mobile Landing Platform, a state-of-the-art amphibious platform designed to act as a floating helicopter pad and special forces base.
The AFSB lacks the survivability of its namesake, or an amphibious assault ship, for that matter. But berthing for 250 troops, flight deck, fuel and equipment storage, and repair spaces make the AFSB a key asset for special purpose Marine air-ground task forces and special operations units. The AFSB's hangar has two aviation operating spots capable of handling MH-53E or equivalent helicopters. Its reconfigurable mission deck area can store embarked force equipment to include mine sleds and rigid-hull inflatable boats.
Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford in March spoke of "a gap in our ability to do crisis response from the sea," specifically in Europe and Africa. Dunford said he expects combatant commanders to request the AFSB to fill that gap. The Marine Corps unit that responds to crises in Africa is currently based in Spain.
Touted as an alternative to the additional amphibious ships Marine and Navy brass want but can't afford to build, the mobile landing platform is designed like a civilian oil tanker with a center deck that submerges to receive landing craft and connectors, equipped to serve as a sort of forward operating base at sea. The afloat forward staging base is a variant of the MLP, with an added flight deck and other features.
The MLP program comprises five ships across two variants. The Montford Point and John Glenn were delivered and are serving in the fleet. A yet-to-be-named fourth MLP, also an AFSB variant, is under construction and expected to be completed in 2018. A fifth AFSB is planned for procurement in fiscal 2017. In addition, the Ponce, a converted dock landing ship, is serving as an interim AFSB and is deployed to 5th Fleet.