Construction has officially started on the US Navy’s second expeditionary sea base (ESB), the future USNS Hershel Woody Williams, with a keel laying ceremony held at General Dynamics NASSCO’s San Diego shipyard.

The vessel has been named in honour of World War II veteran, Medal of Honor receiver and ex-marine Hershel Woodrow Woody Williams.

General Dynamics Nassco vice-president and general manager Kevin Graney said: “The story of Hershel Woody Williams is remarkable.

"We have the distinct honour of constructing a ship that will reflect the strength and fearlessness of its namesake."

“It is a story of valiant devotion, extraordinary courage and American heroism.

“We have the distinct honour of constructing a ship that will reflect the strength and fearlessness of its namesake and will provide global, advanced capabilities for future generations of marines and sailors to come.”

USNS Hershel Woody Williams is the fourth ship being constructed by GD Nassco. Construction of the vessel is slated to be completed in early 2018.

The US Navy awarded a contract to GD Nassco in 2011 to construct two mobile landing platforms (MLP), the USNS Montfod Point and USNS John Glenn. These MLPs were later reclassified as expeditionary transfer docks (ESD).

Later in 2012, the navy added another MLP, USNS Lewis B Puller, to the contract. This MLP, which was reconfigured as an ESB, was formerly known as a MLP afloat forward staging base (AFSB).

All these vessels have been delivered to the navy. The company is also under contract for advanced procurement of a fifth ship.

The 784ft-long USNS Hershel Woody Williams vessel will be deployed to conduct a range of operations such as air mine countermeasures, counter-piracy operations, maritime security, and humanitarian missions.

The vessel will feature a 52,000ft² flight deck to support MH-53 and MH-60 helicopters with an option to support MV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft.

The ESB can accommodate up to 250 personnel.

Image: Ex-marine Hershel Woodrow Woody Williams at the keel laying ceremony. Photo: courtesy of General Dynamics Corporation.