The US military, facing a distinct shortage of allies willing to let them build forward operating bases on their land, has developed an ingenious solution: build the base on a boat and moor it in international waters. All of the shock and awe, none of the messy legal entanglements.
These "sea bases" offer a host of benefits over terrestrial bases. They're easier to defend, can be deployed anywhere in the ocean, and are expected to save the US taxpayers quite a bit of money over the long term. Part of that savings comes from the military's flexibility in their construction. While a traditional naval command ship for example costs billions of dollars and decades to construct, the Navy has no qualms about renting cargo ships and converting them into short term warfighters, as Military Sealift Command (MSC) did with the M/V Cragside, a top secret Maritime Support Vessel (MSV) that can deliver our Special Forces anywhere in the world.
The Cragside is actually the largest and believed to be the most technically advanced MSV in the US armada, though its use by Special Operations Command (SOC) has the Navy tight lipped about what it can actually do. What we do know is that it is a 633 foot long merchant vessel owned by Maersk Lines that the Navy rented late last year at an initial cost of $73 million (that includes the annual $5 million rental rate as well as military conversion costs, the entire program will cost $35 million annually). The four year entire contract is valued at $143 million for this vessel alone. Still that's far more cost effective than building one from scratch.
These conversions include upgrading the communications and electrical systems to defend against EMP and electronic warfare attacks, an armory with room for the Navy SEALs' preferred fast attack craft—jet skis, a gymnasium, and a huge flight deck capable of landing the MH-53E Sea Stallion—the biggest and heaviest helicopter in the US arsenal—as well as Apache Gunships, Navy Patrol Helicopters, V-22 Ospreys, and untold UAVs and ISR platforms. It can house as many as 200 troops in addition to its own crew and remain at sea for up to 45 days before needing to resupply.
The Cragside launches in November, but similar MSVs have already shown the value of this methodology. The USS New York, for example, acted as a mobile command center and launch pad last month when special forces raided Libya to extradite Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the Benghazi terror suspect, back to the US for trial.
These vessels are reportedly very popular among the upper echelons of the Pentagon given their legal flexibility and troop support capabilities. Expect to see more and more rented warships in the US armada in the coming years. [Medium - BI - Reuters]
Image: F. Thrush