Navy Admiral Downplays Role of Special Operations Forces in Floating Base
Reports referred to the floating base, a resurrected amphibious assault ship that was in the final stages of decommissioning, as a “commando mothership” for special operators.
But that will not be the focus of the USS Ponce, Adm. John Harvey told reporters in Washington Jan. 31.
“It is not the primary mission,” he said. “It’s not going over there as an alternate command ship. It’s not going over there as a special operating forces Death Star Galactica coming through the Gulf.”
The main purpose of what Harvey called the “afloat forward staging base interim” is to support mine sweeping operations and patrol combatant craft in the Persian Gulf, he said.
He called it an interim solution because the Navy may turn to its Mobile Landing Platform ships to perform the floating base role. The forthcoming budget will have details on the quantity and purpose of the MLPs and when they will be built, Harvey said.
But there is no end-date for the USS Ponce, he said. “And I’m not aware of a definitive start-date for the MLP so I think there’s considerable maneuver room here . . . We’ll see what the  budget has in it and how many we get.”
The requirement for the floating base was in place before he moved to Fleet Forces Command in July 2009, Harvey noted. It was conceived as a “lily pad” for heavy MH-53 helicopters, a mothership for mine countermeasures, he said.
That doesn’t mean that special operators couldn’t use the ship.
In a call for bids for the upgrade of the USS Ponce, construction and refurbishing details allow for increased security and communication capabilities. The timing of the request for proposals — just a few days after a special ops raid to rescue hostages in Somalia — also lent to the perception that the ship would be a floating base for commandos, Harvey said.
“If you put a certain type of lock on the door, you can have a certain type of briefing in that space,” he said. “If you have this number of radios in a [communications] space instead of just this number of radios, then you have a little bit more capability.”
He added: “There were some things that we can do that would make it amenable for some of these spaces to be used by special operating forces, but it is not a soft-support platform. There were just some choices we had to make that could give it some more capability.”
Harvey said the goal is to have the USS Ponce ready to sail the first of June.