Take a look at the tanker-like warship the US has used as a floating Navy SEAL base


  • USS Lewis B. Puller is an expeditionary sea base stationed in the Arabian Sea.

  • Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed they hit the Puller on January 29, but US officials denied it.

  • Last month, two Navy SEALs died during a boarding operation that originated from the Puller.

USS Lewis B. Puller is an expeditionary sea base designed to support a wide variety of military operations, including those involving Navy SEALs.

The floating base is deployed to the Arabian Sea in response to ongoing attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels, an Iranian-backed militant group in Yemen.

The 760-foot-long ESB has a unique silhouette, with an open-sided hangar space underneath the ship’s sprawling flight deck that makes it resemble a floating parking lot. It was the launch pad for a Navy SEAL mission in January that seized missile parts bound for the Houthi rebels.

Photos show the massive warship and operations conducted aboard.

Named after a legend

US Marines prepare to take off from the USS Lewis B Puller in the Red Sea.

US Marines prepare to take off from the USS Lewis B Puller in the Red Sea.US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Aaron Irvin

The Puller is named after Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” B. Puller, the most decorated Marine in history and the only one to receive five Navy Crosses.

The Marine leader served for 37 years and is best known for fighting in campaigns in World War II and the Korean War. He was awarded his fifth Navy Cross in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in 1950.

His award citation from the battle said Puller “served to inspire his men to heroic efforts in defense of their positions and assured the safety of much valuable equipment which would otherwise have been lost to the enemy.”

US Navy’s first ESB

An MV22 Osprey helicopter prepares to land aboard expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller.

An MV22 Osprey helicopter prepares to land aboard expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller.US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dawson Roth

The Puller is the lead ship in the Navy’s Expeditionary Sea Base (ESB) ship class and the service’s first purpose-built mobile base vessel.

It’s one of six in its class, including the USS Hershel “Woody” Williams, USS Miguel Keith, USS John L. Canley, USS Robert E. Simanek, and USS Hector A. Cafferata Jr. The Canley deployed in August 2023; the latter two are currently under construction.

Its deck is large enough to land transport aircraft like the MV-22 Osprey and the CH-53 Super Stallion, and it can launch small boats for amphibious missions or boarding teams.

The first US ship commissioned outside America

a military captain salutes a flight deck officer with a helicopter behind him

Capt. David Skarosi salutes the flight deck officer after landing on the expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller.US Army Photo by Spc. Frederick Poirier

In 2017, the Puller was converted to a naval warship in a ceremony in Bahrain, making it the first US ship to be commissioned outside America.

It differs from the Navy’s two previous expeditionary transfer dock support vessels, the USNS Montford Point and USNS John Glenn, in that ESBs can operate in more demanding and low-intensity missions by comparison, Navy officials have said.

The Puller, for example, can operate within a few dozen miles of adversaries and may regularly encounter combat aircraft, drones, and surface vessels.

“As the security environment becomes faster paced, more complex and increasingly competitive, with the ever-growing and evolving challenge of asymmetric threats from state and non-state actors alike, the Navy has a growing need to station more diverse and capable warships around the globe,” Vice Adm. Donegan, commander of Naval Forces Central Command, said in a statement in 2017. “Commissioning this expeditionary sea base, the USS Lewis B. Puller, will allow the Navy and Marine Corps team to meet the threats in the region head on.”

Missing Navy SEALs

a dhow brought alongside the a larger military ship

The dhow was brought alongside the USS Lewis B. Puller and the advanced conventional weapons materials were offloaded.US Central Command Public Affairs Courtesy Photo

On January 11, the Puller was involved in an operation to seize Iranian missile parts from a dhow off the coast of Somalia in international waters in the Arabian Sea.

Navy SEALs launched in a small boat from the Puller for a mission known as a visit, board, search, and seizure, or VBSS. The SEALs approached the dhow in a fast boat and clambered up a ship ladder to detain its crew and search its holds for weapons bound for Yemen.

In a rare occurrence, two Navy SEALs involved in the operation were reported missing at sea after one SEAL slipped off the ladder and his teammate jumped in to save him. They were later presumed dead on Sunday following an “exhaustive” 10-day search.

Disputed Houthi attack

marines stand on the flight deck of an ESB while a helicopter hovers above

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Maritime Raid Force fast ropes onto the expeditionary mobile base USS Lewis B. Puller.US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristina Young/Released

Last week, Houthi spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree claimed with no evidence to have fired a missile at the Puller while the vessel was sailing through the Gulf of Aden as “part of military measures aimed at defending Yemen and supporting the oppressed Palestinian people.”

Defense officials denied that the ship was attacked.

$650 million floating parking garage

An electricians mate participates in search-and-rescue training

An electricians mate assigned to the expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller participates in search-and-rescue training during an exercise in the Arabian Gulf.US Army Photo by SPC Frederick Poirier

The $650 million mobile sea-based platform was built by General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company. Almost resembling a floating parking garage with a flight deck, it was designed to include aviation facilities, equipment staging support, and command and control assets.

The Puller can travel 15 knots and has an operational range of 9,500 nautical miles.

ESB features

An aviation boatswain's mate signals signals to a helicopter the flight deck of an ESB

An aviation boatswain’s mate signals to an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter aboard expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller.US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elliot Schaudt

The Puller has a spacious flight deck with four rotary-wing landing spots, a mission deck, and a hangar, though the space is smaller than an aircraft carrier. Its design allows the ship to serve as a transfer point for small landing aircraft for equipment and cargo.

The ship’s aft houses the accommodation and functional workspaces for its hybrid crew of civilian and military members.

Blue and Gold crews

US Marines participate in vessel boarding training

US Marines participate in vessel boarding training aboard expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller.US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elliot Schaudt

A typical ESB crew includes 44 military sealift command personnel and 101 military, with accommodations for up to 250.

The Puller’s military crew operates on a rotational model, and Blue and Gold Crews alternate on and off hull every five months. This allows the vessel to stay deployed and operate in hazardous areas for longer periods.

The Puller has been a part of numerous operations around the Arabian Sea.

In December 2022, naval forces aboard the Puller seized ammunition rounds, fuses, and propellants for rockets after it intercepted a fishing trawler in the Gulf of Oman.

The trawler, which was on a maritime route from Iran to Yemen, was illegally smuggling more than 50 tons of weapons to the Houthis, including more than 1 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition, nearly 7,000 proximity fuses for rockets, and over 2,100 kilograms of propellant used to launch rocket-propelled grenades.

The Puller was also involved in a counter-narcotics mission in January 2022, recovering $14.7 million in illicit drugs and saving injured mariners in the Gulf of Oman.

Live-fire exercises

Sailors deployed aboard USS Lewis B. Puller fire a .50-caliber machine gun.

Sailors deployed aboard USS Lewis B. Puller fire a .50-caliber machine gun.US Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Jessica Y. Lucio/released

Military crew aboard the Puller also conduct a number of training and exercises during deployments. The photo above shows a live-fire exercise with a .50-caliber Browning machine gun.

Honing warfighting skills

a marine fires a carbine rifle at a target

A US Marine fires an M4A1 carbine rifle during combat marksmanship training on the flight deck of expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller.US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Sarah Stegall

Marines also participate in combat marksmanship training through an intensive shooting course and participate in other drills. Some of the other types of training can be seen in the following photos.

Vessel boarding training

a marine climbs a ladder aboard a vessel

A US Marine participates in vessel boarding training aboard expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller.US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elliot Schaudt

Maritime exercises

Sailors lower a rigid-hull inflatable boat

Sailors lower a rigid-hull inflatable boat prior to small boat operations aboard the expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller.US Army Photo by Spc. Frederick Poirier

‘A revolutionary concept’

US Marines board expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller from inflatable boat

US Marines assigned to the All-Domain Reconnaissance Detachment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, board expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller from an 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boat.US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Sarah Stegall

“The Puller isn’t just another ship, but a revolutionary concept; a ship that provides us a key platform that will provide continuity to a variety of operations,” Donegan said when the Puller was commissioned.

“Named after the most decorated Marine in American history, the USS Lewis B. Puller will provide greater operational flexibility to 5th Fleet, forward-deployed as the first ship built specifically for the purpose of serving as an expeditionary sea base,” he added. “As such, it will augment our amphibious forces, not replace them, mine countermeasure forces, and provide an expeditionary sea base for maritime security operations throughout the region.”

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