Navy Sending Floating Base to Middle East

By Jon E. Dougherty at 28 Jan 2012

(Newsroom America) -- The Navy is sending a warship it had planned to decommission to the Middle East at the request of U.S. Central Command to serve as a floating base for commandos and other special operations forces.

The vessel is the USS Ponce, an amphibious assault ship that can accommodate smaller fast boats and helicopters used by Navy SEALs and other special operators. The request to turn the Ponce into a floating base, or "mothership," comes as tensions rise with Iran, al Qaeda in Yemen and Somali pirates, The Washington Post reported.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, would not say where exactly the warship would be stationed. Other Navy officials said the service was moving with unusual haste in converting the Ponce for its new purpose, the Post reported.

A market survey proposal by the Military Sealift Command, dated Dec. 22 and posted online calls for an "Afloat Forward Staging Base" that is to be located in the Persian Gulf.

Other documents say the vessel would be used to "support mine countermeasure" operations.

Iran has threatened to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz over the EU's oil embargo. If Tehran attempted to do so it would rely heavily on mines, the Post said.

The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet is stationed in nearby Bahrain, and there are usually one or two carrier battle groups in the region at all times, so adding the mothership would not contribute much to the Navy's presence overall, but it would likely increase covert operations capabilities, said the paper.

The Navy had planned to decommission the Ponce in March after 41 years of service, but according to the market survey proposal the ship is to be refitted so it can become a docking station for a number of small high-speed boats and helicopters.

© 2012 Newsroom America.

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