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Navy Expeditionary Sea Base ships continue to take on additional mission sets as the service continues to build the class of ships to expand forward presence, drone command and control, helicopter take-off and operational staging activities.
Expeditionary Sea Base Ships
The Navy has now embarked upon its eighth ESB in a clear effort to expand its ability to stage operations at sea. ESBs operate with four MH 53E helicopter landing spots, rigid inflatable boats and a hangar space for additional aircraft. They are also configured for berthing and Special Operations missions. They are the kind of boats likely to be in great demand in vital areas such as the Pacific.
“ESBs are equipped with a four-spot flight deck and hangar and are designed around four core capabilities: aviation facilities, berthing, equipment staging support, and command and control,” a Navy report said.
The Navy essay said the ESB flight deck can support H53, H60, Hi and V22 tilt-rotor aircraft.
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ESBs can function as command and control hubs or motherships in position to dispatch small, high-speed attack units or even launch drones. Launching and operating drones from an ESB can in large measure come to fruition by integrating Littoral Combat Ship mission systems onto the ship, Navy weapons developers have said.
It would make sense that a floating sea base would benefit from an ability to launch and recover drone boats searching for mines or conducting surveillance and attack missions. The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship mission packages can be integrated easily onto ESBs because they were designed to be “modular.” meaning that they were built with a set of common technical standards and interfaces such that they can accommodate new systems and technologies as they become available.
The Navy decision to retire a large number of LCS ships may be part of why the service is finding expanded uses for some of its technologies such as its “mission packages” which focus on anti-submarine warfare, surface attack and mine hunting. Perhaps ESBs could even launch Unmanned Underwater Vehicles to network with submarines, hunt mines or survey high threat areas. The Navy’s concept of Sea Basing, supported by a rapid expansion of its drone fleet, can greatly expand the services’ ability to expand and project power in critical, large maritime areas such as the Pacific.
The sheer maritime expanse of the Pacific is filled with dangerous flashpoints such as the South China Sea, Senkaku Islands near Japan, and of course Taiwan. Any great power confrontation in the Pacific would rely heavily upon the U.S. Navy’s ability to project and sustain power from the sea. The ESB platform designs and technological configurations may be evolving as they are in part for this reason.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven -the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.