We attended the christening last week of the newest US Navy ship, an 80,000 ton (fully laden) vessel that is not an aircraft carrier.

Instead, the USNS Montford Point is the first of a new class of Navy ships, a Mobile Landing Platform, in essence a deployed port at sea. The ship, built at General Dynamics’s NASSCO shipyard in San Diego, adds to the ongoing revolution in what is called “seabasing,” the idea of supplying and sustaining military operations directly from ships at sea without requiring ports or staging bases on the land, a revolution which is being made possible by new ships, new aircraft, and new ways to use existing capabilities as part of the evolving seabase

Because the seabasing revolution is not tied to any single platform, one might miss its significance. There is “disruptive change” going on, but it is more about the evolution of the seabase than it is about a single platform in the seabase.

There are several building blocks either already deployed or on their way that are reshaping the amphibious warfare Gator Navy. Traditionally the Navy’s amphibs acted like a Greyhound bus whose major function was to carry Marines TO the fight. Today, the Gator Navy is becoming a distributed expeditionary strike force, able to engage on multiple operational levels, ranging from security to disaster relief to humanitarian operations to various warfighting scenarios.

We have written before on Breaking Defense about some of the new elements: First, on the aviation side is the Osprey, which is creating a new capability to operate from seabases or land bases to integrate forces in new ways. In that piece, we highlighted the “Tsunami of Change” coming.

Second, the F-35B will bring to the fleet new C5ISR capabilities, which the Gator Navy has never had unless a large deck carrier was part of the operation. The Marines consider the F-35B to be a C2 and information warfare aircraft, which enables the entire MAGTF to operate more effectively. Third, the new USS America class, the Marines’ large deck amphibious ship which is aviation-centric, can provide flagship coverage for a dispersed sea base. Now comes the USNS Montford Point.

As we approached the ship from San Diego harbor, we passed several conventional Navy ships, such as the Arleigh Burke, LHAs, LPDs. Then, looming in front of us, appeared this 80,000-ton giant. As we looked at the ship, the big gaping hole in the middle is where the change has come. It’s built on the foundation of an oil tanker which NASSCO built for British Petroleum. Instead of tanks, you have open space on the ship.

The Montford is designed to offer a mix and match functionality for support to the fleet. Modules will be developed for the ship like the first module which will be placed on the ship to allow three assault landing or LCACs deployed per module.

The ship can be configured to support disaster relief, such as the Japanese tsunami, to support assault operations with many vehicles on board, or to support sustained at-sea operations. It can also be a floating support systems with aviation or ground operations. It can clearly function as support for higher intensity assault operations or for a more sustained operational tempo.

In an interview with the ship’s operator, Military Sealift Command, Admiral Buzby underscored the ship’s flexiblity. Along with his other new asset, the T-AKE ship (also built by NASSCO), new multi-mission assets were being bought to allow for more flexible operations.

“New modules to support other missions could be added to support a new generation of sailors and Marines who have not even been born yet. One could easily envision this ship serving as a repair ship, a hospital ship, an aviation depot/support ship, or a dedicated LCS mothership in the future — given the appropriate mission capability package was developed and fitted. It’s 800 feet of ‘use your imagination,” Buzby said.

The admiral was underscoring a key element: the ship’s ability to add capabilities in years to come. The new ship is a platform, which will be enabled more effectively over time as new modules are added.

So far, the only mission capability package that is approved and being built is called the Baseline capability. It allows ship-to-ship offload from Large, Medium-Speed, Roll-on/Roll-off Ships or LMSRs via a vehicle ramp onto MLP, which has the capability to then enable further onload of up to three Landing Craft Air Cushion- class hovercraft or LCACs for transport ashore of equipment. The baseline package includes a raised vehicle platform (no covered storage), LCAC mooring ramps/support facilities, vehicle ramp (ship to ship), and fenders.

The $500 million cost per ship includes the baseline capability package. From an MSC perspective, the ship’s ability to stay at sea for long periods of time will enable it to support a wide range of missions, ones that require long on-station time. Mission capability packages will be designed, constructed, and placed aboard the ships over time as needs are identified and funding available.

The only additional capability package currently under development (but not yet fully approved or funded) is the Afloat Forward Staging Base package which could include an aviation landing area and hanger capacity of some size.

It also should be noted that such a large ship requires a relatively small crew of 34 core sailors to operate the ship. More crew will be needed during cargo ops to run the deck and moor the LCACs. There is no berthing on board for the additional personnel. After the interview with the Admiral, our colleague Ed Timperlake commented that the “mission of the ship was logistics, but it was engagement agnostic.”

This function fits in well with the Pivot to the Pacific in which the full spectrum of operations facing a sea base is not a function of policy planning but of operational demands and realities.

The USNS Montford Point will be part of 21st century concepts of operations innovations, and the types of ships to be procured in the years ahead need to be central to the evolving concepts of distributed operations so central to global operations.

The logistics side of the operational equation is often ignored, but it is clearly the tail that wags the dog. And this tail – the USNS Montford Point – could foster change beyond even the traditional understanding of the seabase.

James Strock, the Marines’ guru on seabasing at Combat Development Command, underscored the kinds of innovation this ship can foster:

“We’ve already been down to talk to the Army Chief of Transportation at Fort Lee, Brigadier General Stephen E. Farmen. The Army has hosts of ocean-going watercraft. We need to test if Army LCUs or Army Logistic Support Vessels could do a 90-degree ramp down marriage to the MLP for possible equipment transfer. We need to see if the Navy’s landing craft utility, the 1610 Class LCUs, could they do ramp down, what we call athwart- ship, 90-degree approach, on the MLP for at-sea transfer. We need to examine: Can you bring a Joint High-Speed Vessel alongside the MLP, slew its ramp 45 degrees and do at-sea transfer between JHSV and MLP? The combinations become endless, so you look at all of the various Army watercraft, and as you look at other military sealift command assets, and all the various multinational capabilities. The lance corporals and the gunnery sergeants are going to figure a lot of this out.”

There are two other important parts to the story of USNS Montford Point. The first is how the ship came to be. It demonstrates an entirely new way to build ships. When the Navy initially put together its design requests, the ship was going to cost north of one billion per ship. Given that logistics ships tend to be at the end of the line in priorities for funding, this placed it firmly it in center of the budgetary kill zone. It was on the way to the junk pile of ideas. Enter the NASSCO team, which worked closely with the Navy to find a way to make this ship a reality.

After years of rethinking how to build the ship, the Navy is getting three ships which are about 80 percent of the initial concept requirements for the price of the initial projected ship cost. In an exclusive interview for this article, NASSCO’s CEO, Fred Harris, sat down with us. Above all, Harris emphasized the need for close coordination between the design and manufacturing processes. “By combining a mature design with a well-designed manufacturing process with assurance that the materials to build the ship were available and with skilled workers, the USNS Montford Point could be built in a timely and cost-effective manner.”

There were two other factors that contributed to the success in building the ship. The first is the importance of having built oil tankers for BP and then using that experience to shape the Navy program. “I took Navy officials with me to visit the BP tankers and to ask them what they liked and didn’t about the ships. And we took their evaluations and our experience in building the tankers as a powerful baseline in which to improve the USN version of this ship.”

The second factor is the important role which South Korea played in the design and manufacturing processes for the ship. NASSCO has had a close working relationship with Japan and South Korea. For example, Harris told us, “the ship has a deck of one-and-one-half inches thick of steel. Normally, we would need six passes to do this, but the Koreans had a technology to do it in one pass. With the Korean technology, we were able to reduce cost and raise quality and performance at the same time.” If one is concerned about competing in the Pacific with the Chinese then working more effectively with our Japanese and South Korean allies is a good thing. And here the first of the Montford’s class has that cooperation built in!

The Montford Point Marines, the first African-Americans to serve in the Corps, are legendary for their courage and their success in fighting against the Japanese in World War II and against racism in the United States. Toward the end of his christening speech, Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos put on the hat of the Montford Point Marines alumni with 4 stars on it to drove home the point that he was the Commandant of all Marines, not folks who at one time were forced to be separate. Amos also delivered the best line of the day: “Because of sequestration, I am cutting my speech by 10 per cent and will only speak for 9 minutes rather than 10.”

The photos accompanying the article were shot by Robbin Laird and Murielle Delaporte on March 1.


  • Bill Morgan

    Exactly what is the point of this ship?????Do we need it and why????

    • http://defense.aol.com/ Colin Clark

      The central mission of the Marines is to go from ships, hit the beach and fight their way inland. This ship will allow them much more flexibility in terms of what they can carry and easily move to other ships. It allows the Marines to stay in a location for much longer periods of time. As they experiment with what works best, they will probably come up with completely new uses for it, such as basing a decent number of F-35s or V-22s from it or deploying combat-ready Marines directly from it. Given our interest in beefing up our ability to respond all across that enormous pond known as the Pacific this ship makes quite a bit of sense. Also, it is ideally suited to one of the most common missions of the Marines, providing humanitarian relief to places like Japan after the tsunami. The Marines have argued for this capability for over 10 years.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Samuels/1680736697 Mark Samuels

        You’re thinking WWII era, every ship in our Navy is already targeted by smart missiles from China and Russia, thus outdated and worthless. Time to work on defensive missile and electronic infrastructure technology in the military.

      • PolicyWonk


        Where I understand what you’re saying, this ship is built to commercial standards – not even the Navy’s level-1 standard. Hence – it cannot sustain the a shock a fleet oiler can withstand. Furthermore, the ship is designed to sustain operations only up to sea state 3 – and weather has a way of not cooperating.

        The utility of this sea-frame will deteriorate quickly in an environment that is contested by a serious foe. And thats the kind of environment the USA hasn’t faced in quite a while.

      • Geoff

        Floating transshipment pier? Why not cut to the chase, take the money, build a bunch of honking big barges, pre-position them? Tow them where they’re needed. Cheaper, more available hulls, and even more flexibility/ability to modify. Can sit anchored somewhere rusting till needed. Little maintenance or operating costs. You’re going to need tugs on station during any beach assault anyway…they might as well pay their way both directions.

        Delivering cargo directly to the beach? Why does every “old” problem require a new, expensive, modern solution? Use the money to build a bunch of WW2 class LSTs. Cheap to build, effective, proven design, and solid enough ships there’s still some in service around the world. For a billion dollars, could build quite a few, and a dry dock to lay them up in when not in use. Doesn’t need to be “modern”, just able to cheaply and effectively transport cargo and unload it on the beach.

        When was the last time the Marines assaulted a beach, what beach can we conceive of them assaulting, and how is this thing going to survive in a combat environment without so much as point defence? It’s a defenseless, half billion dollar target.

  • rkeeeballs

    She’s a beauty….$$$$…the best. Now lets take a few years off from $pending and re-build our economy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=575632323 Buddy Pinkham

      I totally agree. What a waste of money!

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.turnbole David P. Turnbole

    Another waste of taxpayer dollars. The military industrial complex continues to churn out weaponry and materials to push for more warfare. Cut the DoD budget in half and we would still be the most military funded country in the world and the DoD budget would still be larger than the next 12 countries combined. Eisenhower warned us and no one listened. Now we have this huge military that we have to use.

    • http://www.facebook.com/RjWimmer Richard James Wimmer

      So Essentially the Navy/Marines paid 500 million for what looks like an
      overly glorified Container ship? Well then, how much of that went to
      special interests, and how much went to the Shipyard Workers?

      David P. Turnbole, the US Military, even if it is a bloated machine still puts a great deal of money back into the economy. The only problem is if you cut out the special interest groups, and lobbyists then things would both be cheaper, and put a great deal more of the taxpayer money into the economy. Cut the F-35 Programs, and instead order more F-22s, or F-15s for the AF, maybe F/A-18s/AST-21(F-14E) fighters for the navy/marine corps and we still not only enjoy the most advanced, and strongest military in the world but a great deal more could be ordered, thus providing more jobs, and more money back to the taxpayer.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jack-Everett/1031257371 Jack Everett

        How much went to corporate lobbyists?

    • JVL

      Turnbole–if you feel so strongly that it’s a waste, then you need to be lobbying your congressmen and women, not whining on a message board.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jack-Everett/1031257371 Jack Everett

        JVL if you are nothing but a yellow satin coward go find a deserted island to live on.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mark-Samuels/1680736697 Mark Samuels

        Having spent six years in the USN 72-78, I agree with Turnbole, the Navys is outdated, in todays age of Satellite and missile technology, every ship is targeted, and would be gone within one hour of a war with Russia or China.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jack-Everett/1031257371 Jack Everett

      Exactly right. We need to start supporting our citizens over the corporate military industrial complex and their fascist supporters.

    • stopworrycurrency

      what is your problem david turnbole,
      why worry about currency,
      what about russia navy, iran navy, china, north korea navy,
      are 4 countrys taxpayers

  • DOD employee

    If things don’t make sense, then our government goes for it! Just like taking away 22 days pay from me because our great leaders can’t agree on a budget!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001098349375 William Popp

    I think a multi function ship is much better and more economical then
    building a few ships that this one can anything they would do with just re
    configuring what it carries. This could save a lot of money in the long

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.harlan.710 John Harlan

    Leave out the acronyms. We aren’t that impressed.

  • Michael

    500million hunh? And I thought we were broke! Lets see, if I take the 50 million wasted on Syria, the 250 million wasted on Egypt, the 500 million on this rust bucket That would be almost 1 billion in savings! Throw whatever we waste on Pakistan, and we’d be way over a billion in savings!

  • Fred

    Did you see the picture of the four star at the beginning? Looks just like a cheap Central American dictator. Those South American and Central American dictators all love glossy and gaudy uniforms. When is our military going to limit the number of ribbons (and medals) displayed? Two rows for O-1 to O-6 and three rows (max) for O-7 and above. Three medals (Max). Come on guys (and girls) show some class.

    • JVL

      Those medals are EARNED, not granted. And there are military regulations which govern how those ribbons and medals are worn. They aren’t just “popped onto” mounting bars. My father served in WW II and he had a chestful of ribbons which is a track record of one’s service. My son is now serving and he, also, has a chestful of them earned over a decade of service on land, on the high seas, and in combat.

      Our military doesn’t have NEARLY the pips and ribbons that the third world dictators and military men sport.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jack-Everett/1031257371 Jack Everett

    More waste on military over extended budgets we do not have the money to pay for. We need to star shrinking the military budget and start supporting our own citizens.

    Americans need good civilian manufacturing jobs not fascist military expansionism.

    • Tom hanson

      Haha, way more wasted on the “war on poverty” than all wars the U.S. military fought combined. But hey, let’s not let facts get in the way of our drive to a socialist utopia!

  • BPW

    Now, let’s see…General Dynamics was stuck with this great big hulk because the intended customer, British Petroleum, had run into financial and political difficulties due to their reckless behavior leading to the oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Oh, what to do? Well, whenever a large corporation is stuck in a bad situation with impending financial loss there is always one retarded customer to turn to, the US public. The public has no idea how things actually work, and the public’s purse strings are contolled by politicians who are easily influance by some lobbying and contributions. All that’s needed is a plausible sounding rationale for the acquisition: Flexibility! That’s it! Everyone knows how incredibly useful a combination saw-hammer-screwdriver-comb-toothbrush is! Problem solved.

  • RdWhtBl

    As a moderate, I think this concept is brilliant. Seriously.
    It’s outside the box and is looking for a fair more cost effective multi/diverse use of the Navy.

  • Mike

    When we stop ordering based on scare tactics and more by need we will see our military budgets cut….unfortunately, too many general dynamics hacks have bellied up to the republican bar and announced “buy me a drink sailor”……..

  • roger

    does it have a brothel on board. that would really make it self sufficient.
    it would boost morale a thousand fold

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=575632323 Buddy Pinkham

    500 million dollars and it looks like a rusted old cargo ship!~

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000055835910 Troy Smith

    $500,000,000.00, each? Please let me name every ship they crank out, the USS “Gimme Back My Money” Then, the USS “Gimme Back My Job” Then, the USS “I’m Hungry You Turd’s” Then, The USS “Paid For By That Guy Over There Without A Job” Then, The USS “Will Work For Food” and, at last,
    The USS ” Suicidal Tour Guides”

  • Ocean Walker

    NASSCO (ASS CO) shows that it is nice to have a company that has an open check with the goverment. These ships, just like the TAKE class ships, will be a joke. They were a deal made between the Dept Def and NASSCO to keep the ship yard afloat. Wine and dine gets you a ship building contract. At $500 mil each the TAKE class was supose to be the greatest Replishment ships ever built on the water. They are the most costly ships to repair and sail. The fuel they burn a day is over $250,000. They go from NASSCO ship yard to another ship yard before they can deploy. All the TAKE class ship have had to have emergency repairs due to design problems. If you didnt sail on them you would not know how big a waste of money they are. NASSCO pushed them out and paid under the table big time to get them inspection. The Navy personel that had input in have never sail onboard a Navy ship. Admiral Buzby (Buzzkill) is another over paid Admiral who loves to be on display and toot his own horn. A hand shake and pat on the back and you can screw over as many sailers (civmars) as you want all day everyday. Ask the Civmars who actually sail these ship and they will tell you what a great ship they are. Just like driving a bulldozer down town. They say the when you are on a TAKE have the tugs stand by we wont get far.

  • Dan

    Great concept. How will the Navy defend it from attack and sinkage??

  • talltrees

    whats the point here

  • http://twitter.com/mike711l Michael Levy

    Big ships make big targets.

  • http://twitter.com/mike711l Michael Levy

    It looks like a tanker with the tanks removed. Only half a billion? What a bargain. (rolls eyes)

  • Marcheal

    I hope I am stationed on it.

  • O.M.

    One Marine’s point of view: 70% of the world is water; 21 of the world’s 28 mega-cities are within 60 miles of the sea and 50% of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of a coast. 95% of the world’s commerce moves by sea and 95% of our international communications travel via underwater cable. The world’s oil travels through seven major sea chokepoints that lie within the “arc of instability”. Who protects all of this? Like it or not, The United States Navy and Marine Corps is the Global 911 force. This USNS class will obviously be an eye-sore and something to place blame upon until the next major crisis is underway and this class ship proves it’s itself not only useful but a force multiplier.