The Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) ship class is highly flexible that may be used across a broad range of military operations supporting multiple operational phases, similar to the Expeditionary Transfer Dock (ESD) class. Acting as a mobile sea base, they are part of the critical access infrastructure that supports the deployment of forces and supplies to provide prepositioned equipment and sustainment with flexible distribution.
The ships were originally called the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) and the MLP Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), respectively. In September 2015, the Secretary of the Navy re-designated these hulls to conform to traditional three-letter ship designations. The design of these ships is based on the Alaska class crude oil carrier, which was built by General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO). Leveraging commercial designs ensures design stability and lower development costs.
The USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), USS Hershel “Woody” Williams (ESB 4), and follow on ships USNS Miguel Keith (ESB 5), John L. Canley (ESB 6), and Robert E. Simanek (ESB 7) are optimized to support a variety of maritime based missions, including Special Operations Forces (SOF) and Airborne Mine Counter Measures (AMCM). The ESBs, which include a four spot flight deck, mission deck and hangar, are designed around four core capabilities: aviation facilities, berthing, equipment staging support, and command and control assets.
In August 2017, upon arrival in the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility, ESB 3 was re-designated from USNS and commissioned as a USS. As a commissioned Navy ship, USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) is commanded by a Navy O-6 with a permanently embarked military crew. This re-designation provides combatant commanders greater operational flexibility as to how the platform is employed in accordance with the laws of armed conflict.