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November 2006

MSC builds 'pier in ocean'
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By MSC Public Affairs

USNS Red Cloud and MV Mighty Servant 3
Military Sealift Command's large, medium-speed roll on/roll-off ship USNS Red Cloud (right) comes alongside the MSC-chartered MV Mighty Servant 3 while both ships were underway for an afloat prepositioning demonstration off Norfolk, Va. The ships were secured together with mooring lines. Large floating fenders cushioned the connection and protected each ship. Naval Sea Systems Command photo

Two ships, both operated by Military Sealift Command, were the focal points of a unique at-sea demonstration by the Navy's Program Executive Office for Ships, 20 miles off Norfolk, Va., during September and October 2006.

MSC's USNS Red Cloud, a 950-foot large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off ship laden with combat vehicles and trucks, loomed mightily over MSC's chartered MV Mighty Servant 3, a 594-foot semi-submersible, heavy-lift ship. Both ships were moored together while underway to demonstrate a concept that will be used in the design of a new generation of afloat prepositioning ships for the U.S. Marine Corps: the Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future). This force is part of an ongoing Navy initiative to launch and sustain land forces from the sea.

Mighty Servant 3 was center stage as military experts from PEO Ships, NAVSEA, MSC, private industry and other Navy commands observed. The ship demonstrated the concept of a Mobile Landing Platform, also called an MLP, which is at the heart of the design concept for MPF(F).

The demonstration featured the offload of vehicles from Red Cloud onto a surrogate 'pier in the ocean' - the at-sea platform provided by Mighty Servant 3. Vehicles were driven down Red Cloud's side ramp onto Mighty Servant and then onto small air-cushioned landing craft, which were quickly and easily flown on and off Mighty Servant 3's semi-submersible deck. From there, the craft, skimming over the ocean's surface at speeds up to 40 knots, whisked vehicles ashore.

In the future, MLP ships will serve as the key transfer points to allow the rapid and selective offload and delivery of vehicles, stores and personnel. Instead of requiring prepositioning ships to go to a terminal on shore for offloading, vehicles and equipment would be transferred to the MLP at sea and then deployed directly into an operating area.

"In many ways, this demonstration was like watching one of our cargo ships offload ashore," said Mike Touma, MSC's MPF(F) project engineer. "However, this time it was much more challenging because Red Cloud had to come alongside another ship at sea and link up with it while underway. It was amazing to see the deployment of Red Cloud's ramp onto Mighty Servant 3 and the transfer of vehicles down to her deck for movement ashore."

Red Cloud, with a civilian crew that works for a private company under contract to MSC, is well accustomed to the prepositioning role it played in the demonstration. For years, the ship has prepositioned equipment and supplies at sea in the Indian Ocean with Maritime Prepositioning Squadron Two in support of the U.S. Army.

With its more than 300,000 square feet of cargo-carrying capacity, Red Cloud is ideally suited for rapid loading and offloading of military cargo. Steel-reinforced decks, sturdy shipboard cranes, and its stern and side ramps allow cargo - ranging from tanks and trucks to containerized supplies - to be easily lifted or driven on or off the ship.

"USNS Red Cloud and her civilian crew played a critical role in the at-sea demonstration," said Navy Capt. Patricia Sudol, the Navy's program manager for support ships, boats and craft. Sudol's office headed the demonstration effort. "We greatly appreciate the teamwork from the units of Beach Group 2, Military Sealift Command, Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Surface Warfare Center-Carderock Division, Office of Naval Research and many other organizations who supported this effort," said Sudol.

Funds for the construction of the first MLP are included in the President's Budget for fiscal year 2009.