The Navy is currently facing the same budget constraints that the rest of the military is suffering through.
Instead of resorting to robotic troops, the Navy is contracting out a 633-foot-long cargo ship. This ship, Craigside, will be converted into a helicopter carrier, with specialised facilities for special operations forces and their jet skis.
David Axe, of Medium, reports:
In November, Military Sealift Command (MSC) — America’s quasi-civilian fleet of more than 100 specialised but lightly armed vessels — awarded an initial $US73-million contract to shipping giant Maersk to convert one of its cargo ships to a so-called “Maritime Support Vessel” standard…
MSC is adding a bunch of new hardware to Cragside to allow the vessel to function as a floating base for up to 200 troops and their weapons plus small boats, helicopters and the aforementioned jet skis, which the Navy and Air Force have begun buying and which Navy SEALs could use to sneak along enemy coastlines.
The contract is set for four years, and is worth $US143 million. Though expensive, the cost of outfitting Craigside into a floating tactical mothership is still below the cost of building a new vessel from scratch, as well as being significantly faster. Craigside should be ready for deployment in November.
Ultimately, Craigside will be outfitted with a flight deck large enough to support the heaviest military helicopter, the MH-53E. It will also be fully capable of supporting Apache Gunships, Navy Patrol Helicopters, and Marine and Air Force V-22 tiltrotors.
“This is going to be a seriously capable ship,” commented Tim Colton, a maritime consultant.
Motherships such as Craigside are extremely popular in the Pentagon. A floating base circumvents the potential headaches of having to acquire permission to set up a military base on another country’s soil. The fact that they are mobile and deployable is icing on the cake.
Another tactical mothership is Ponce, a formerly retired 1970s amphibious assault ship. In 2012 it was brought back into service as an “Afloat Forward Staging Base” (AFSB).
Since being refitted, Ponce hosted minesweepers and other specialised troops for tactical operations in the Persian Gulf. It is due to be outfitted this year with an experimental defence laser system. This laser system has the potential to accurately and effectively shoot enemy missiles and drones out of the air.
Ponce, unlike Craigside, has a relatively short life ahead of it. It will be replaced by a pair of purposely built ASFBs within the next two years. Each of these vessels will be over 800 feet long and will cost around $US500 million a piece — and are expected to completely remake how the U.S. conducts amphibious warfare.
For the time being, floating bases are an incredibly effective – and cheap – stop gap measure that allows the Navy to retool its arsenal without blowing huge chunks of its budget.
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