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Ponce Not Quite Floating Spec Ops Base

by John Reed on January 31, 2012

Well,  the Navy is trying to downplay the special operations role the USS Ponce will play after it is converted into a floating base for anti-mining, coastal patrol and special operations missions in the Persian Gulf.

The amphibious transport dock, commissioned in 1970 is being rapidly converted into an interim Afloat Forward Staging Base for such missions, with special operations being a particular focus area, the Washington Post reported last week.

However, Adm. John Harvey, commander of the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, said this morning that the ship will not be a commando “death star,” according to multiple news reports.

“I think they put two and two together and got 22.” US News quoted Harvey as saying.

“It is not a special operations ‘deathstar,” instead the ship will “support mine [warfare] ships-not project SEALS,” the Fleet Forces Command chief said.

The four-star said the notion that Ponce will be a base for special operators from the solicitation to industry requesting bids to modify the ship, saying Navy officials do intend to build in some “spaces … to be usable by SOF.”

The Washington Post cited numerous Navy and Pentagon officials as saying the ship will be used for special operations missions in addition to anti-mine duties.

A market survey in which the Navy sought a vessel to serve as the floating base listed a requirement for the ship to be able to host  12 small boats and four choppers of the type that are frequently used by Navy SEAL commandos, mine hunters as well as coastal and river patrol teams.

Specifically, the ship must be able to simultaneously support two “riverine command boats” four “small unit riverine craft, four Mk-5 Zodiac boats and two seven-meter rigid hull inflatable boats as well as four MH-53 size helicopters and 370 personnel, according to the market survey.

The ship is being rushed into service as a floating base due to increased concerns that Iran may try to close the Strait of Hormuz.

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{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

jamesb January 31, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Oooops!

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@Brianckramer January 31, 2012 at 11:54 pm

May want to touch up the paint as well.

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tiger February 1, 2012 at 9:33 am

The ship is pushing 42. I doubt paint will be all it needs……..

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Nick T. February 1, 2012 at 10:31 am

The same could be said for all almost ships over 20 that aren't carriers.

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Lance February 1, 2012 at 12:21 am

Still a great cost saving idea. leave it to SOCOM for that. that's the way to go and improve w/o a Billion dollar ship competition for only 4 ships made at a 500 Billion a piece.

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FormerDirtDart February 1, 2012 at 9:30 am

CENTCOM, not SOCOM requested the asset

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leesea February 1, 2012 at 12:47 am

converting an old Gator is questionably a cost savings, more like an expedient solution since the USN did NOT have or maybe even look at any other ship or platform type?

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Will February 1, 2012 at 6:56 am

As a mine warfare support ship, an LPD is an ideal platform for the mini-subs, hovercraft & helos that do that work. The Navy has used the bigger LHA & LPD for that in the past, but they’re nearly all gone now.
The LCS will be bases for SEAL teams when they have the modules for that job installed. Similar concept to the APD converted destroyers of WW2. But they’re still working out the bugs in the 2 classes of LCS.

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FormerDirtDart February 1, 2012 at 9:33 am

The Ponce performed the exact same mission at the start of OIF as the flagship of the Commander of Mine Countermeasure Squadron Three

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leesea February 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm

IF one ignores the cost of repairing and operating a wet well dock syste, you might be right. IF one listens to CFFC, there is NO need for a wet well dock system for those "unstated" missions

LCS can be a lily pad for a NSW unit. JHSV can fully support a mid-sized NSW and NECC task group. JHSV has about three time the troop and boat capacity of an APD and a mid-sized helo deck to boot (one H-53 spot)

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mhmm... February 1, 2012 at 1:30 am

“Four MK-5 Zodiac boats”?
Does the person who wrote this even know what a MK-V Special Operations Craft is or looks like?

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FormerDirtDart February 1, 2012 at 4:46 pm

I think there's a good chance that the personnel involved in producing the Navy's "market survey" (linked above) have a clue about the equipment they are referencing. And, the author of this article appears to have correctly transposed the proper designations for the crafts requested to be supported.

Maybe you could try at least scanning the referred document next time?

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blight February 2, 2012 at 11:12 am

Small BoatFacilities

Ability to simultaneously moor the following small boats alongside:

2 Riverine Command Boats (RCB)

4 Small Unit Riverine Craft (SURC)

4 Mk-5 Zodiacs

2 7 meter Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBS)

Fueling facilities at mooring area

Aren't the "Zodiacs" actually RHIBs? Thus the MK-5 is actually the SOC, and we can all move on.

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leesea February 2, 2012 at 5:45 pm

I think we know the Market Survey was GIGO garbage in garbage out?

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Dominick Palermol November 8, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Nope the person doesn't have a clue lolololol

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Jack Luz February 1, 2012 at 6:18 am

Great. Now the terrorist bad guys know what to gun for. Can we say "operational security"?

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Rabbit February 2, 2012 at 1:21 am

Such is the cost of living in a free and open society. Gotta balance that with OPSEC concerns.

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blight February 2, 2012 at 11:06 am

OPSEC would be specifics, such as the composition of missiles in a DDG's missile tubes (the mix of standards and TLAMs), which would be of great interest to a foreign power interested in starting a war. Classifying everything is often a cover for incompetence. For instance, Abu Ghraib could easily have been pushed under the rug by hiding behind "operational security".

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M2ball February 1, 2012 at 7:45 am

Thanks to whoever pointed out to the bad guys what our SOF staging ships look like. . .

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tiger February 1, 2012 at 10:29 am

The Pirates can buy a copy of Jane's in any bookstore.

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PMI February 2, 2012 at 11:52 pm

The Mogadishu Barnes & Noble has FANTASTIC coffee.

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Riceball February 1, 2012 at 10:59 am

Like your average terrorist or pirate actually reads these blogs or generally keeps up with announcements regarding our military procurement except for maybe major deployments. And even if they do read about this news, what good does it do them to know what a SOF mothership looks like, it's not like we're trying to make any effort at making it look like cruise ship or anything but a warship. Not to mention that any potential SOF mothership will probably stay out over the horizon until night fall so that anybody on the look out for them won't see them.

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Entropy February 3, 2012 at 6:28 am

You're right! WE honestly need to think more about OPSEC. Pirates reading blogs is comical, but it's the other combatants (like Iran) in the area that we should worry about.

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B_Smitty February 1, 2012 at 9:26 am

How long can Ponce realistically operate four MH-53s? It has no hangar facilities for them.

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FormerDirtDart February 1, 2012 at 9:35 am

the Ponce has a hanger, and has supported MH-53s before.

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B_Smitty February 1, 2012 at 9:45 am

Ponce has a small, retractable hangar for a utility helo. IIRC, it's not sized for MH-53s.

So yes, it can operate MH-53s off the flight deck, but the USN likes to have hangars for its aircraft to help preserve them on long deployments.

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leesee February 2, 2012 at 5:47 pm

maybe there will be an upgrade to Ponce's aviation capabilites in this $50 mil conversion

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blight February 2, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Is the retractable hangar visible in the above photo? Something that looks like it is certainly there…

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Barry Marple USNRET March 22, 2012 at 1:19 am

AMCM aircraft have operated on LPD type ships since 1973 and they've done very well.

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FormerDirtDart February 1, 2012 at 9:44 am

It seems pretty obvious to me, that when CENTCOM requested an asset to support counter mine operations, they likely added to their justification … "annnnd without the normal battalion size complement of Marines aboard, the ship will have ample space to stage special operations assets"

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blight February 3, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Sounds like bet-hedging in case LCS doesn't pan out.

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Hector A. Martinez February 1, 2012 at 9:47 am

Looks like half the ship is a deck, where is the hangar for the choppers and where is the launch pad for the boats? Of the side? I just hope it works because the name Ponce means a lot to some people.

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tiger February 1, 2012 at 10:26 am

Ships cost money.

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nraddin February 1, 2012 at 10:28 am

It always seemed like a pretty large craft for them to just be operating SOF guys out of. Seems like if that was the plan you are seriously limiting their projection range to near a fairly slow moving surface craft, and giving them enough room for hundreds of people. How many teams do you need on one ship? 300 worth seems like a lot. Knowing that it's being use to support anti-mine (Iran's big threat), Brown Water, anti-pirate,etc operations it seems like a better plan. It honestly is the best idea I have seen out of the navy in years.

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. February 1, 2012 at 11:03 am
Eric February 1, 2012 at 11:23 am

Its not OPSEC, its not deploying w/any capability the ARG/MEU doesn’t already have. SOF & Marine Specialized Units have launched special missions fr/these ships for 40+yrs.

The only thing different is this will be a ship under SOF Operational Control.

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orly? February 1, 2012 at 12:06 pm

No one seems to understand this truth.

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blight February 1, 2012 at 11:32 am

Bah.

And in the meantime, we have legacy minesweepers that aren't really talked about. The LCS becomes a minesweeper essentially when drones are embarked. Would it be cheaper to augment legacy minesweepers now? Their weakness was low speed and reduced ability to disarm large fields, if I recall correctly.

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leesea February 2, 2012 at 5:49 pm

there are mineships forward deployed to Bahrain, don't have to go far

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Nicky February 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm

If the Ponce is not up to snuff, don't we have the Cleveland class of amphibious transport dock that has room for Command and Control for SOCOM. What about building another Harpers Ferry class dock landing ship or Whidbey Island class dock landing ship solely for SOCOM to have one on each coast

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FormerDirtDart February 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm

As I posted the last time you brought this up.

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)

Additionally, there is relatively little chance the Navy & USMC would allow either a Harpers Ferry or Whidbey Island class ship be pulled from their traditional roles, since the overall amphibious landing fleet is considered to be below the required capacity.

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Nicky February 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm

What about building another one of the Harpers Ferry class dock landing ship or Whidbey Island class dock landing ship for the sole purpose of supporting US SOCOM. Surely we can always build at least four of them for SOCOM and have them both on Pacific and Atlantic coast for Special Forces.

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orly? February 1, 2012 at 1:37 pm

We have an issue with money right now.

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FormerDirtDart February 1, 2012 at 2:19 pm

WOW, where to start?
1. Whidbey Island class ships haven't been made since 1989.
2. Harpers Ferry class ships haven't been made since 1996, and are really just modified Whidbey Islands.
3. While SOCOM has a ridiculously large budget, I doubt they have several billion to spare on a collection of boats they don't want or need.

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Nicky February 1, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Surely SOCOM has the money and they can find it somewhere in their huge Black Budget for one or two Harpers Ferry class dock landing ship or Whidbey Island class dock landing ship. We all know how Obama talked so much of shovel ready jobs, maybe this could be the one that helps SOCOM build a couple of mothership out of either the Harpers Ferry class dock landing ship or Whidbey Island class dock landing ship and even fulfills the 38 Amphibs that the USMC has been harping about. We still have the blueprints somewhere that we can dust off and build and updated version of the Harpers Ferry class dock landing ship or Whidbey Island class dock landing ship

tiger February 4, 2012 at 9:44 am

You can't afford that when they are cutting the DOD budget.

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Eric February 1, 2012 at 2:30 pm

It would make no sense building new ships specifically for SOCOM, just build the 38 Amphibs the USMC recommended.

They are some of the most versatile ships in the Navy. When the Marines aren’t using the Amphibs the Navy has used them for a variety of their own real-world missions.

If they build out to the recommended 38 Amphibs, there will be more than enough ships for SOF to have a scheduled unit rotation on available Amphibs the same way the Marines do.

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leesea February 2, 2012 at 5:51 pm

so then what the Marines and NSW have to compete for space onboard?
or try this, the MIW mission is NOT in the same area as the Amphib ops?

There have been ships supporting NSW ops for a very long time, they just were NOT warships~

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AlC February 1, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Perhaps a forward deployed mother ship to a few LCS ?

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blight February 1, 2012 at 3:42 pm

We could crack out more appropriate tenders for those kinds of things. The Ponce seems a little too specialized to be a mere tender.

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RCDC February 1, 2012 at 5:01 pm

We need 10 of these for delivery of fast craft boats and Spec Ops in Kuwait to support the 5th fleet. But it should be far from the Iranian cruise missiles reach. It should be supported by another 10 Virginia class subs for defense and just in case Iran attack the navy posted in Kuwait. Iran currently have 100 missiles boats with high powered aircraft gun on it. We need to double our (USA) numbers for self defense.

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blight February 2, 2012 at 11:10 am

We need tenders for the Mk V SOC's. However, I don't know if inserting special forces by /boat/ is smart in this day and age. All the Iranians need is an active coastwatcher program, when our best way in is airborne insertion. The SDV and inserting divers by submarine remains the smart bet. Maybe the compromise may be to have a submersible pod that carries the Mk V that docks to a submarine, and can surface to steathily deploy a boat, versus a boat that has to make the trip over the water in the teeth of long range maritime radar?

The Ponce's well deck might not see as much use for SOF. Alternatively, use the Ponce as a command center off Somalia, and use it as a command ship for Mk V SOC's doing target practice and counter-piracy raids along the coast, or have the Marines do amphibious raids. When was the last time Marines came off a LCAC? At Camp Lejeuene or Pendleton? Or as part of some joint exercise under other canned conditions?

I imagine such may not be popular with the Somali people.

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orly? February 2, 2012 at 11:54 am

"When was the last time Marines came off a LCAC?"

Several times in the Pacific, besides the frequent exercises Unified Assistance is an example.

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blight February 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm

"…Or as part of some joint exercise…"

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orly? February 2, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Unified Assistance was NOT an exercise.

tiger February 4, 2012 at 9:51 am

We Have a $15 Trillion national debt. We are cutting Defense. Nobody, except the Flunky Senators for Bath iron works could even dream of that much ship building.

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Robert Fritts February 5, 2012 at 8:51 pm

For self defense? Glad you said that. Now using your common sense we will use the Navy to defend South Carolina, not South Korea. Maybe we could rotate Marine and Army brigades to patrol our border with Mexico, now that they have trained for a decade defending the Syrian/Iraq and Pakistani/Afghanistan borders. Dont hold your breathe. I'm a retired Soldier, who is 100% pro-Military, but we are not in the defense business anymore. Maybe the Air Farce could start fighting fires, since they dont want to provide CAS anywhere.

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blight February 5, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Now that we have the CIA/Secret Team, maybe they will take up the bleeding and dying away from America's shores. Granted, we have to pay the moral price of shacking up with dictators and the like.

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Ethan February 2, 2012 at 7:33 am

Mine warfare against pirates? I dont think they had that kind of tech?

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Nicky February 4, 2012 at 12:14 am

I hear ingalls Shipbuliding is presenting their idea of a patrol frigate based upon the US Coast Guards NSC called Patrol Frigate 4501 and Patrol Frigate 4921. Here's the link to the post http://seawavesmagazine.blogspot.com/2012/02/inga

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RCDC February 18, 2012 at 11:40 pm

In addition to what we already have the navy could use a powerful remote control equipment to re-control the controlled Iranian remote controlled bomb drone boats in conflict.

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Riptide March 24, 2012 at 2:06 pm

This is a better platform than we used (Windbrown 7/Herculese); in the late 80's.
But, I'm sure the chow isn't as good as we had, nor the other perks we had.

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William February 1, 2012 at 8:47 am

Having served on that class, I disagree about the hardness of target that it makes. OTOH, Jack, "Opsec" only goes so far. Let's not get paranoid.

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Riceball February 1, 2012 at 10:52 am

I agree, but with some people everything and anything military related is OPSEC, even if it common knowledge or little to no use. We use guns, OPSEC! The Marine Corps has 4 active division, OPSEC! Our carriers are nuclear powered, OPSEC! Our troops wear camouflage uniforms, OPSEC!

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mhmm... February 1, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Lol well if the link you posted is what they meant I’m sure they can find space for four rubber raiders. Those well decks are huge, played a game of football in one once, they could fit dozens of rubber raiding craft in that thing.

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blight February 1, 2012 at 11:25 pm

You're dreaming a little too hard. Even the San Antonios, which have the parts, the plans and the trained workforce are taking longer than necessary to lay down and build. And you want to build a ship that exists on blueprint, is probably chock full of legacy parts belonging to suppliers which may no longer exist and were built by workers who have long since moved on to new projects or even retired…?

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PMI February 2, 2012 at 11:50 pm

When did 4th MarDiv get re-activated?

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