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USS Ponce to Become Spec Ops Mothership

by John Reed on January 28, 2012

In case you didn’t see this on Friday, the Pentagon is converting the 1970s-vintage amphibious assault ship USS Ponce into a mothership for special ops and countermining missions in the Middle East, the Washington Post is reporting.

The 570-foot long ship’s big flight deck and well deck are well suited to carry the choppers and small boats that SOF troops would use to execute raids from this floating assault base. In fact, a Navy market survey document laying out requirement to develop a floating base that can be used in the Persian Gulf says whatever ship is chosen must be able to carry 370 people, have a 20-person operations center, accomodate “4 MH-53 size helicopters” and a have up to 12 small vessels like riverine patrol boats and 7-meter Zodiac boats lash up to its side at any one time. Click through the jump to read the Navy’s market survey and the requirements for the floating base.

Here’s the Navy’s solicitations for company’s to convert the Ponce into that mothership, and quickly, in order to get the vessel to the seas around the Middle East and you can bet the Horn of Africa too. The Ponce is expected to serve as the SOF and counterming ops mothership until a more permanent floating base can be built, according to the Post.

AFSB Market Survey MM-12–04 Revision 1 Dec 22

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{ 94 comments… read them below or add one }

DJ Elliott January 28, 2012 at 3:47 pm

This is new? We've been using gators for this type of thing since WWII…


AlC January 29, 2012 at 7:12 pm

It's new to the current crop running the USN.

We used LSTs during Vietnam for offshore basing and repair (ARLs)
But few of those officers wend on two management positions later in their careers so the knowledge was lost.


FormerDirtDart January 29, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Actually, the current crop running the USN were likely all around for the "Tanker Wars" in the mid-late 80s, and probably took part in Operation Prime Chance. None of this is new. Just when there is a renewed need, it comes back out of the closet.


agwnonsense January 28, 2012 at 3:58 pm

isn't a Ponce a poofter I can see the connection


tiger January 31, 2012 at 10:38 am

It's a city in Puerto Rico.


mark February 4, 2012 at 6:57 pm

'Ponce' is also slang for a homosexual…..


blight January 28, 2012 at 4:03 pm

The old gators may be turned into special ops boats and UAV launchers in the near future.

It beats waiting for the Navy to procure a proper boat without hitting overruns. As it is, the Navy has plenty of boats and must dump them or figure out how to integrate them into the new special operations focus.


leesea January 30, 2012 at 12:09 am

cost too damn muich and don't need a wet well dock (money sink hole)


blight January 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm

You're probably right in that most operations will be helicopter based, but since the LPD's already have 'em…


Lance January 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Awesome and cost saving Idea got give it to SOCOM and the Navy for a great idea.


dave May 14, 2012 at 5:50 pm

i was on the ponce in 85-86 this ship sucked bad they could have used the tarawa class ships better uss saipan would have been better


lalaland January 28, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Brilliant, clearly no-one at DoD has visited the Urban Dictionary recently.


Adam July 12, 2012 at 11:28 am

Yeah, DoD/NSA are spending lots of time on UrbanDictionary analyzing UK slang. Total dark ops/analysis, of course. Ponce is probably either camouflage, psyops, or why not simply the new gay friendly US military?


crackedlenses January 28, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Finally, some good news. Our incompetent leaders get something right once in a while…..


Black Owl January 28, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Two Somali Pirates are talking at night…

Pirate 1: Hey, let's go raid that ship!

Pirate 2: I don't know, man. What if they have armed men on board?

Pirate 1: Don't worry. I'm sure we can take 'em.


joe January 30, 2012 at 3:04 am

Well, they already tried to board one of the Spanish navy ships in the NATO task force by mistake.

You'd think somewhere in the 'Pirating for dummies" manual there'd be a note along the lines of "if it's grey and has a number on the prow, LEAVE IT ALONE"…


Black Owl January 30, 2012 at 10:07 am

I heard they also attacked a French Navy ship. Apparently they saw the ship at night and could only see the lights, not the hull. With the lights only they thought it looked like a luxury cruise ship from far away so they attacked it, boarded it, and received a major @$$ kicking.


blight January 29, 2012 at 12:44 am

Someone in the services explain this tidbit to me:

Question 5:
Aircraft Capabilities:a. Flight Deck – Will a helipad satisfy the flight deck requirement?
Answer 5:
a. No, a helipad will not satisfy the requirements. Flight deck must be NAVAIR certified.

What did the Ponces deploy off the flight decks? I thought they just had Sea Knights, or did I miss something?

These also have well decks, so it'll meet special forces needs without the need to embark aboard a larger gator (like the America or the San Antonios). However, it would be nice if they could quietly procure or commandeer civilian vessels for this-eg use a RO-RO cargo vessel to offload RHIBs at sea and the like.


STemplar January 29, 2012 at 12:39 am

They are, the MLPs are probably going to be used in this manner. Read a piece that there are 3 ordered, the fourth would be built as a AFSB with added decks and a large upper flight deck. There is talk the third one ordered might be converted to that configuration as well.

This youtube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xn5v7tEBYn4 gives the Maersk offer of a S class cargo ship converted much the same way. The MLP AFSB conversion will be very similar, but this gives a good visual idea. Really glad to see this happening, puts money into capabilities for missions that will actually exist and already do.


blight January 29, 2012 at 9:28 am

Interesting. And for Q/A 5 in the contracting form about the flight deck?


STemplar January 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I'm sure, they aren't meaning a carrier. Flight deck means for helicopters as well. The Austin class lists in specs the space for 6 sea knights, so that is apparently big enough to satisfy the contract. The part about a helipad not being enough probably meant to eliminate some commercial options that have just that, a spot for a chopper to land.


blight January 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm

An older image: http://www.navsource.org/archives/10/09/10090401….

Perhaps they mean a flight deck large enough to operate multiple helicopters, because a helipad suggests only one aircraft can be prepared and sent off at a time.

leesea January 30, 2012 at 12:13 am

While the Navy COULD float barges onto a Flo/Flo ship, the MLP is so chopped up it probably won't work?

The AFSB previously were large sealift ships for Support.

ATSBs have been barges used floating outposts i.e. Staging.

See the difference, the Navy doesn't


leesea January 30, 2012 at 12:10 am

the above Market Survey was cancelled. Go look up USS Ponce MTA contract online


blight January 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm
Roy Hill June 1, 2012 at 11:12 pm

As someone who served onboard the Proud Lion from 1990-1993 I can assure you she was Navair certified. We went through all of the normal certifications and my fellow IC's and I kept the SGSI fully operational.


major.rod January 29, 2012 at 2:18 am

Just in time for campaign season!

This is a good move but the timing is suspect especially with the rush put on the order. wouldn't be surprised to see a bunch of highly publicized SEAL raids against pirates this summer.

The ship is needed. We used a carrier for a spec ops base going into Afghanistan and a barge the last time the Iranians mined the gulf. SOCOM has been trying to get this concept launched for two decades. Timing is everything.


blight January 29, 2012 at 11:51 am

It'd be awesome to finally start hitting the pirates along the coastline, though the Somalis might not be pleased about it. However, if you hit them hard enough, the Somali military might be able to walk in and reassert control. Without shore bases, the offshore pirates would have to free or kill and dump their hostages. Many companies will be pleased to get their cargoes and ships back-and after replacing some crewmembers will be back in business.


mitch January 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm

What Somali military? The only pro-West actors operating overtly in Somalia are AU troops out of Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.


blight January 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm

The declared strength of the Somali military is around 4,000 troops. Not much information available, so hard to say if they who they are working for…


Nicky January 29, 2012 at 2:44 am

I like the concept of the Mothership for patrol boats and maybe something the US Coast Guard can use and tag along with the US Navy. Provide a base for their 110 patrol boats and even their FRC.

I think that the US Navy should have used something more younger than the USS Ponce. I know the US Navy still has some Austin class amphibious transport dock that are still good or even the Cleveland class amphibious transport dock that are still left that the US Navy can use as motherships for Spec ops and even for CB-90 craft as well.


blight January 29, 2012 at 9:27 am

Ponce and Trenton are the newest of the Austins. The Clevelands (modified Austin) are still around, and half have been decommisioned already. The Cleves have extra room for a flag bridge and staff, which could be useful for C3 of special operations.


FormerDirtDart January 30, 2012 at 3:07 pm

The only Austins still commissioned are the Ponce (just barely) and Denver, every other Austin or derivative, has already been decommissioned, and no doubt rat f–ked for parts.


blight January 30, 2012 at 3:15 pm

Hmm. What about the LSD's?


STemplar January 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm

There are some, really boils down to how many conversions do we need. Probably none of the LSDs were due for decommissioning.

FormerDirtDart January 30, 2012 at 4:24 pm

All 8 of the Whidbey Island class, 4 of the Harpers Ferry class are still in service, and expected to continue in service through 2038.

With the USMC making it clear that the amphibious fleet is below required capacity, I can't see any ships having their mission and uses changed.

The Denver (Austin/Cleveland) will likely be retired when the Somerset (San Antonio) is completed and joins the fleet.

And, there are the Nassau (reserve fleet Mar '11) and Peleliu (active) Tarawa class LHAs. The Peleliu is scheduled for deactivation in 2013 when the America joins the fleet. Though, they are rather large, and will require a larger crew to man, but would still be smaller than the Maesk S-class AFSB concept.

Jim January 30, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Hey, Nicky. USS Ponce already IS the youngest Austin Class ship! Ponce is the LPD 15 and Cleveland is LPD 7.


Nicky January 30, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Instead of retiring the Austin class amphibious transport dock & Cleveland class amphibious transport dock. I should have overhauled them and reuse them as Motherships for SOCOM and for a fleet of Patrol Ships including the USCG 110 & FRC's & the CB-90's. I would bet that each Command such as Centcom, Northcom, PACCOM and many others would love to get their hands on a used Austin class amphibious transport dock & Cleveland class amphibious transport dock and reuse them as mother ships for the Special ops units.


George May 23, 2012 at 2:26 pm

FYI, the Ponce is the last ship of her class of the Austin class! I should know, as I put her inot commission! ERGO, she is the YOUNGEST ship of that class!


FormerDirtDart January 29, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Seems to me to be "Prime Chance" all grown-up and less ghetto rigged.


Scott January 29, 2012 at 7:51 pm

The Navy already did essentially the same thing in the 1990s with the USS Inchon. Converted it to a MCM tender and command ship. Engine room fire ended its career over a decade ago, though…..


STemplar January 29, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Funny and kind of sad how many times we have jury rigged this option over the decades and been very successful, and we are just now getting to a purpose built option.


RCDC January 29, 2012 at 8:30 pm

If conflict with Iran happens we probably need 10 if these carrying a lot of speed boats with surface to surface missiles or rockets and anti aircraft gun for self defense if attack by Iranian speed boats.


STemplar January 29, 2012 at 8:33 pm

How about a squadron of F-18s instead with cluster munitions instead?


RCDC January 29, 2012 at 8:55 pm

How about both? We need to consider all option if war with Iran happens including helping their oppositions to prevent casualties and errors.


STemplar January 29, 2012 at 9:23 pm

The swarming boat thing is pretty much non sense. The Millennium Challenge war game sent everyone into spasms over that even though at the time we had plenty of options to counter it, we just didn't bother to deploy them. Nearly ten years later we have even more options for that.

We have the ability for 24/7 ISR of the Straits, and IRGC fast attack boat bases so it isn't like the Iranians can flip that switch and we won't know it. They're goign to be idiots one afternoon and come out and play and then the USN and USAF tacair forces in region are going to reduce all those bases and forces to charred rubble.


blight January 29, 2012 at 10:38 pm

It required a surprise CM attack. I imagine ships in the MidEast operate with reduced CM loads and carry more Standards for anti-CM defense and anti-air.

In Praying Mantis, they used Standards for anti-ship missions, so at least standards will be kind of versatile for the threats expected from nation-state warfare.

RCDC January 30, 2012 at 12:08 am

But we should give peace a chance and focusing on self defense if they (Iran) decide to attack us. They maybe denying their guilt on nuclear issues to get support from other countries. We need to pray hard to God. I have a feeling that this could escalate.

RCDC January 29, 2012 at 8:31 pm

If conflict with Iran happens we probably need 10 of these carrying a lot of speed boats with surface to surface missiles or rockets and anti aircraft gun for self defense if attack by Iranian speed boats.


leesea January 30, 2012 at 12:07 am

and still the US Navy has not learned that converting old warships is VERY expensive~

BTW that Market Survey is OBE and supeceded by this FBO for the Ponce conversion:


Ivan R. Berry February 1, 2012 at 11:28 am

Didn't they bring the Mighty Mo out of mothballs for Vietnam ? How about something like the USS Carronade (IFS-1) ?


blight February 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Warships are inherently expensive. Old and new.


RCDC January 30, 2012 at 12:16 am

I think it will be a good strategy if we use 10 of these ships for fast boat delivery to Kuwait to support the 5th fleet. It wouldn't be a good idea to display these ships in open waters near Iran, because it can be beyond the reach of their (Iran) cruise missiles which they already tested on their naval sea practices. Our ships could be an easy target by their (Iran) cruise missiles if war erupted.


JE McKellar January 30, 2012 at 8:00 am

The word is 'tender', not 'mothership', not 'Afloat Forward Staging Base'. Are we really so illiterate?


blight January 30, 2012 at 8:48 am

Tender isn't macho. And Afloat Forward Staging Base satsifies the military's need for jargon and the repurposing of old jargon for new paradigms.


hiwarmgun January 30, 2012 at 10:48 am

I can see Iran trying to take the ship out with a Silkworm missles or Somalis sneaking close in at night with explosives. I hope they spend a few extra dollars to mount Phalanx or RAM CIWS and mount .50 cal. and 25mm guns to counter nutballs in speedboats.


FormerDirtDart January 30, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Its the USS Ponce, an Austin-class amphibious transport dock, its already armed you putz.
Its standard weapons complement is 2x Phalanx CIWS, 8x .50 cal. mounts.


leesea January 30, 2012 at 9:51 pm

and it needs more as in SeaRAM and newer versions of Mk 38 and now about a Mk 49 .50 mount?


FormerDirtDart January 30, 2012 at 10:44 pm

With only a 60 odd day refurbishment, I think it will be lucky to retain what weapons systems it had to start with

And, I may have erred on the standard weapons complement, found additional info listing 2x Mk-38s along with previously listed weapons


Matt Holzmann January 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm

If they want to park helo's on the deck it's okay, but where will the maintenance/support be located? It will have to have some kind of honey badger defensive capability, and it will have to have a very heavy duty A/C system and very large gas/diesel storage tanks for the daughter ships.

Max speed is @ 20 kts. It's an interesting idea and if properly implemented could be a better alternative to the LCS for close in operations.


FormerDirtDart January 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm

I would assume it will support any helicopters assigned the same way it has before. Like in 2003 when the Ponce was the flagship of flagship of the Commander of Mine Countermeasure Squadron Three, designated as Commander, Task Group 55.4, when she had a detachment of MH-53Es aboard.

As to fuel aboard for a collection of smaller craft, what the heck do you think was parked in its damn well deck before, rowboats?

The damn boat has been operating in the same damn area for the past decade at least. Pretty much every thing this ship will be tasked to do, has been done on similar vessels, and this particular vessel itself, on numerous occasions before.


blight January 30, 2012 at 2:22 pm

If they wanted tenders for ships, the Yellowstones would've been a better idea. These are probably more for embarking helicopters and small craft for special operations.


LEP1 January 30, 2012 at 2:02 pm

I am wondering whether this "tender" or "forward platform" solutions will create better targets for the Iranians in the asymmetric warfare environment of the Persian Gulf. The immovable platforms that were used during the U.S. Navy special forces involvement in the Persian Gulf in 1986-1988 during the Iraq-Iran War had to be guarded themselves by U.S. Navy missile guided destroyers and frigates. The fact that these platforms and attending U.S. Navy warships were not hit by any Iranian SSMs (including the Chinese origin Silkworms) had more to do with Iranian inability to handle and maintain SSMs rather than our electronic warfare ability to decoy them away. Things have changed. Iran possesses more and better SSMs (e.g., copies of the Chinese C802, Kowsar, etc.), and the number of our USN FFGs and DDGs is down. If you have to guard and provide anti-missile defense for a special operations "tender," then the guarding USN FFGs and DDGs cannot undertake other missions.


blight January 30, 2012 at 2:19 pm

Much of their ability to operate without harassment will depend on depend on deterrent power and ability to evade observation. Throw out enough ship-controlled UAVs or helicopters and keep civilian dhows BVR.

Cynically, every missile that goes at one of these things is a missile not flying at a CBG. They will likely prioritize targeting towards the United States's sustainable combat power first.


leesea January 30, 2012 at 9:53 pm

all ships are targets, it depends on how the Navy protects them -organic weaps AND nearby FF(G).


stephen russell January 30, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Served on sister ship USS Nashville LPD 13, Norfolk VA.
Ponce needs major Remodelling for SOF missions alone
New engines, armor, deck guns etc secure CIC for Mission.


Mickey February 3, 2012 at 7:29 pm

That's Gonna Kick a Lot of Iranian and syrian ass


Chic February 5, 2012 at 8:05 am

Am very concerned about the safety and security of the ship if it is to be anchored or
moored for long eriods of time in one location. No amount of booms and netting will
keep the terorists away, ans ship's force would offer only minimal protection.


paul bartoswicz July 13, 2012 at 6:16 pm

we had special ops types operating off the Trenton in the 80's…loaded their boats beside the hanger and launched zodiacs out of the well deck…shouldn't be to much to do to reconfigure the Ponce


P.J.Cochran July 22, 2012 at 9:52 pm

I was aboard for first underway Harrier landing.Shot my bow in vehicle stow area on watch.Used first night vision from sponson. Loved it all.With 2nd BN 8th Marines at time =went to Med74 along side Saratoga saw my past skipper on deck from Vietnam.Wish I could go back again and do repel boarders .P.J.Cochran


Andy Hughes August 3, 2012 at 12:35 pm

In related news, the Royal Navy has launched the HMS Queer.


Jill Trotchie December 6, 2012 at 6:56 pm

The most embarrasing thing would be if they still kicked everyone ass with this ponce


jeff choce March 23, 2014 at 11:52 pm

iI was on the PONCE from 84 till90 miss them days


blight January 29, 2012 at 9:24 am

Both LCS have stern ramps, so they can deploy amphibious vehicles or roll off small boats.Natively, they can deploy small watercraft and two helicopters each off their flight deck, and use the modules to add capability for UAVs or UUVs.


STemplar January 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm

I read a couple days ago about initial discussions for a marine and SOF module package. Very preliminary I guess since they haven't got the first 3 modules working yet, but the idea is out there.


blight January 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm

There's a lot of ambiguity in LCS information, but as far as I can tell the LCS can embark less than a hundred additional personnel, along with boats or helicopters to disembark them without additional modules.


STemplar January 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I'm sure, 6 sea knights is apparently equivalent room for 4 sea stallions. Ultimately this is a short term measure I'm sure, the converted MLPs will provide a ton of room for ops and support.


STemplar January 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Like I said it was mostly initial brainstorming but I would imagine the modules would be for berthing and gear and such. It isn't like the LCS are small, they are still pretty big. In any event 80ish people and gear would be a couple SEAL team troops or a MARSOC detachment.


blight January 29, 2012 at 6:03 pm

It's not like we need to keep every SEAL Team afloat (though that wouldn't be a bad idea), but..


STemplar January 29, 2012 at 8:40 pm

No I agree, it wouldn't be for that. Parking one in the Gulf of Aden with a joint force to implement an off shore patrol of Somalia would probably be a lot more cost effective than using Burke's.

Being able to send them for things like disaster relief instead of more high end combat options like LHDs would be good too.


STemplar January 29, 2012 at 9:50 pm

They could use Wikimapia.

There's 2 of their 3 Kilos tied up at port, along with some more of their navy. Probably we'll be ok.


warpuck March 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm

asw=sh60b+MH60l or ah64 Or ah6j


blight January 29, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Three kilos is pretty meh, though the Wik is reporting that "Russia and India" are assisting Iran with their Kilos.


blight January 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm

It might be nice to free up ESGs. For stuff like showing the flag in Sierra Leone, it might be useful to have a few LPD's around. Bring a DDG for cruise missiles, the LPD to insert some operators where necessary. No need for a reinforced battalion of marines.

Since we are still stuck in global policing after a few decades, we may as well figure out how to do it economically.


STemplar January 30, 2012 at 12:35 am

The converted MLP is a pretty big ship. Not a need probably for a LPD. The MLP is 765 feet long and while not quite as big as that Maersk video and the converted S class cargo hull, it is still a plenty big ship. I hate the word modular but it might be big enough to make some kind of drop VLS cell system and carry its own cruise missiles.


blight January 30, 2012 at 8:49 am

Or Armored Box Launcher, whichever works best without cutting into the hull.


JE McKellar January 30, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Tenders are basically mobile bases, not just basic supplies or logistics, but also repair and support facilities, including extra berthing for the crews, galleys, recreational areas, etc. All the extras that a large ship would have, making long deployments bearable for man and machine, but which can't be crammed into a small-hulled destroyer, sub, or boat.

The LCS will probably need a tender in-region to swap out mission modules anyway, so they might as well start work on a new class.


leesea January 30, 2012 at 9:49 pm

tender in naval terms does NOT mean a resupply ship. So the real question fhat the Navy cant' figure out is: does AFSB stand for Staging Base as in lily pad or floating outpost,
OR does the S stand for Support which means major logistics capacity as one LMSR has already been converted to, and as Maersk has proposed doing to its S-Class container ships. Google AFSB and find out.

BTW there is NO official definition of AFSB


STemplar January 30, 2012 at 4:56 pm

The Maersk was just a proposal by them a few years back. I posted the video for reference only. The MLP is being built though and the 4th being converted sounded like pretty firm talk with the third being built like instead of a MLP also sounded pretty firm. The MLP hull isnt as big as an S class, it's still pretty big though, 765 feet.


STemplar January 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm
Nicky January 31, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Aren't the Cleveland class amphibious transport dock available for this type of upgrade. What about using one of the Harpers Ferry class dock landing ship or even the Whidbey Island class dock landing ship


FormerDirtDart January 31, 2012 at 2:45 pm

The Ponce is actually an improved Cleveland class, some times referred to as Trenton class, so it includes additional C&C facilities.
Naval registry considers them all Austin class ships.
The obvious answer is the Ponce was selected because it was excess, and beginning decommissioning. It is in fact the last Austin/Cleveland/Trenton built. The only other remaining Austin class in service is the Denver (Austin/Cleveland)


Nicky January 31, 2012 at 1:06 pm

A kilo sub is not good unless they have some experienced sub drivers. Though with Iran, it's more of a wait and see.


Praetorian March 15, 2013 at 8:14 pm

The ship was named after Ponce, Puerto Rico which was named after the explorer.


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