USNS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3) is an Expeditionary Mobile Base (EMB) support ship serving the United States Navy (USN) under the banner of United States Military Sealift Command (MSC), the organization that oversees the management of various non-combat American Navy vessels including those related to transport and replenishment. The warship originally appeared with the formal hull designation of "T-ESB-3" and is operated as a second-line landing platform / support ship, succeeding USS Ponce (AFSB-(I)-15 in the Persian Gulf Theater of Operations (ToO) in same role in 2017. USS Puller currently serves under the motto of "Courage, Leadership, Duty" and remains in active service as of this writing (2020).
The vessel's construction was awarded to NASSCO of San Diego, California during February 2012 and work began on November 5th, 2013. The hull was launched on November 6th, 2014 and was officially commissioned into service with the USN on August 17th, 2017.
As built, the ship displaces 87,000 tons under full loads and has a running length of 764 feet with a beam measuring 164 feet and a draught down to 25.5 feet. Power is from an Integrated Electric Propulsion (IEP) system developed by General Electric driving 2 x Screws under the stern. The vessel makes headway at up to 15 knots in ideal conditions and can range out to 9,500 nautical miles (nearly 11,000 miles).
Aboard is a maximum mission-support crew of 298 while the typical operating complement is 145 made up of officers, sailors, and merchant mariners.
The profile of the ship includes a raised bow and stern section with midships reserved for a large flight deck. Twin smoke funnels are featured well-aft in the configuration with the bridge section just forward of the structures. The flight deck can serve rotary-wing systems (helicopters) up to Sikorsky CH-53 "Super Stallion" heavy-lift types in size - four of these massive helicopters can ferried on the ship as full-service hangar facilities are included as part of the ship's design. CV-22 "Osprey" tilt-rotor operations from the flight deck are also possible while AH-64 "Apache" attack helicopters have been trialed for certification purposes. Below the flight deck is an expansive cargo hold to support various at-sea actions. Of note is that USS Puller carries mine-sweeping equipment and can support special operations missions as well as support general offshore / inland operations conducted by U.S. forces. It also is equipped with the N-30 passive fire protection system.
While not a direct-combat vessel, USNS Lewis B. Puller is armed for defensive action by way of up to 12 x 12.7mm Browning M2HB air-cooled Heavy Machine Guns (HMGs). This provides relatively sufficient defense against marauding fast boats or boarding parties as well as low-flying aircraft.
Commissioned in 2017, the vessel participated in training during Alligator Dagger 2017 and additional min countermeasures work involving helicopters followed in 2018. During March of 2020, the vessel took on U.S. Army AH-64 "Apache" attack helicopters during trials while, in April of 2020, the U.S. Navy revealed that the vessel came under harassment by Iranian fast boats while underway with USCG ships in Persian Gulf waters.