Special operations personnel are often assigned missions in places where support is hard to come by. Expeditionary Support Bases, like the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) and sister ships, are, in essence, mobile bases, make it easier to bring support within range of troops in austere environments. However, supplies are limited; the United States Navy has just the Puller, with two sisters under construction.
Furthermore, these ships are large and lightly armed, making them vulnerable. The good news is that there may be an option to give more special ops personnel support — and the answer is a combination of two ships already in Navy service.
USS Independence (LCS 2), whose trimaran hull is the basis for Austal's proposed Special Operations Support Vessel.
(U.S. Navy photo by Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Nicholas Kontodiakos)
Austal is offering a Special Operations Support Ship. This concept vessel takes the trimaran hull used by Independence-class littoral combat ships and combines it with features from the Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport, like a stern ramp and the ability to haul vehicles and troops around.
The model showcased at the 2018 SeaAirSpace Expo at National Harbor, Maryland showed a potent armament suite for this vessel. It included two quad launchers for anti-ship missiles, like the RGM-84 Harpoon or the Kongsberg NSM, as well as a turreted gun forward and a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile.
Elements of the Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transports would be incorporated with the Independence-class littoral combat ship's trimaran hull to make the Special Operations Support Vessel.
(Photo by Austal)
This Special Operations Support vessel also maintains the ability to operate a helicopter at least the size of a MH-60S Seahawk, which would not only allow it to insert special ops troops, but to also fire AGM-114 Hellfire anti-ship missiles. Even though the Navy is buying large expeditionary support bases, when it comes to supporting special operations forces in the future, deploying several little ships instead of something large may be the answer.