New tonnage means more jobs – in this case for SIU Government Services Division members – as construction recently began on the latest addition to the Military Sealift Command (MSC) fleet.
Work started on the future USNS Miguel Keith, an expeditionary sea base (ESB) vessel, on Jan. 30 at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego. The ceremony served as a formal recognition of the start of the ship’s construction, with the vessel expected to be delivered in 2019.
NASSCO is a union shipyard.
Capt. Scot Searles, program manager of MSC’s Strategic Sealift and Theater Sealift, weighed in on the ceremony for the Keith, saying, “A keel laying is the first major milestone in the construction of a new ship. The keel is the symbolic backbone of the ship. Over the next several months, ESB-5 will begin to take shape and I look forward to seeing its progress as we continue constructing this versatile ship.”
The ship is named for a Vietnam-era Marine machine gunner who, while severely wounded and outnumbered by the enemy, charged the approaching attackers in order to save the lives of his fellow Marines. Keith posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroism. His mother, Delores Keith, serves as the sponsor of the vessel that bears her son’s name, and though she was too infirm to attend the keel-laying, a family friend welded Delores’ initials onto the keel block in her stead.
The 784-foot-long Miguel Keith will serve as a floating base, with a 52,000-square-foot flight deck, fuel and equipment storage, repair spaces, magazines, and mission-planning spaces. The vessel will carry up to 250 personnel, along with support helicopters and other aircraft for mine countermeasures, counter-piracy operations, maritime security operations, humanitarian aid and disaster-relief missions.
The Miguel Keith will be the third ESB produced by NASSCO in the Montford Point class, and the fifth overall in its class. The Montford Point class is comprised of two variants, all crewed by SIU members and working to support the U.S. Maritime Prepositioning Force. The USNS Montford Point and USNS John Glenn, which have been dubbed Expeditionary Transfer Docks (ESD), have been delivered and are currently in service. The first of the ESB variant, USS Lewis B. Puller, was delivered to the Navy in 2015, while the USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams was christened in October 2017 and is expected to be delivered to MSC at the end of February.
The primary difference between an ESB and an ESD vessel is that an ESB is outfitted with a flight deck and hangar that can support helicopters and tilt-rotor aircraft, while an ESD is not so equipped. This additional flight deck affects the stability of the vessel, which helps dictate the types of missions each ship can undertake.
According to the Navy, “The Expeditionary Transfer Dock (ESD) / Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB), formerly known as the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) /Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), is a highly flexible ship that provides logistics movement from sea to shore supporting a broad range of military operations. ESD/ESB class ships leverage an existing commercial design of the Alaska class crude oil carrier built by General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO), to ensure design stability and low developmental costs. These ships operate within Maritime Prepositioning Ship squadrons as mobile sea bases or as the component commander requires providing the U.S. Navy fleet with a critical access infrastructure that supports the flexible deployment of forces and supplies.”
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