AFSB(I) 15 Ponce
LPD 15 Ponce
USS Ponce decommissioned 14 October 2017 at Naval Station Norfolk. By September 2017 The United States was negotiating with Argentina a £40 million ship ["ideal for invading the Falklands'] – just as the cash-stretched Royal Navy was withdrawing a similar class of vessel from active service. The Landing Platform Dock vessel capable of launching 800 troops, six helicopters and 2,000 tons of equipment into a war zone. the Argentinians want to buy USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15, ex-LPD 15) which was due to be retired by the US Navy in 2018.
Admiral Lord West, former head of the Royal Navy, said 2 September 2017: ‘At a time when the Argentine government still refuses to accept that UK sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is not up for discussion, I would prefer if our friends such as the United States did not sell them a landing ship capable of launching helicopters and large numbers of troops. ‘Such a ship is an offensive weapon and could play a significant role as part of an invading force. It is more unfortunate that this is happening as we are about to lose HMS Ocean from service without a direct replacement.’
Other some retired Royal Navy officers are also concerned. Among them is retired Adm. Lord West. “Such a ship is an offensive weapon and could play a significant role as part of an invading force. It is more unfortunate that this is happening as we are about to lose HMS Ocean from service without a direct replacement,” he told the Daily Mail.
Argentina and the United Kingdom clashed from 2 April to 14 June 1982 in a military confrontation for the sovereignty of the Malvinas Islands, which killed 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 Britons and three civilians from the island. Since then, Buenos Aires has claimed in different international forums the sovereignty of the Falklands and urged London to sit at the negotiating table to resolve this dispute.
In January 2012 the US Navy cancelled the plans to decommission USS Ponce and transferred the 40 year old ship to Military Sealift Command (MSC) to serve as an Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB). Instead of having a USNS designation and being commanded by a civilian master, the Ponce would operate as a commissioned ship with a US Navy captain in charge of the hybrid crew. The ship will be redesignated as AFSB(I) 15. The "I" standing for interim.
The USS Ponce (AFSB[I] 15) was the first interim afloat forward staging base, with a combined crew of US Navy Sailors and Military Sealift Command (MSC) civilian mariners. The Ponce was able to stage people and equipment to support anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, anti-air warfare, mine countermeasure operations, patrol craft, and command and control. The Ponce operates its flight deck, well deck, upper and lower vehicle storage, and operational working shops like the hydraulics shop, well shop, valve maintenance shop, and filter cleaning shop to assist naval ships, submarines, patrol craft and mine countermeasures ships in its assigned area of responsibility.
Ponce's crew consists of approximately 165 MSC personnel and 55 Sailors, which was about 140 crew members less than that of a normal Land Platform Dock (LPD). The military crew members are individual augmentees (IAs) from different commands around the Fleet. The MSC crew operates the supply, engineering, deck and navigation departments, while the military crew controls the combat systems, operations, communications and anti-terrorism/force protection departments.
USS Ponce was the 12th and last ship in the Austin class of Amphibious Transport Docks (also known as a Landing Platform Dock or LPD). The contract to build the Ponce was awarded on 17 May 1965, the keel was laid on 31 October 1966 and she was launched on 20 May 1970. She was delivered to the Navy by Lockheed on 25 June 1971 and she was commissioned on 10 July 1971.
USS Ponce's insignia was comprised of four major elements: a rampant lion signifying the high spiritedness of the Navy-Marine Corps team that serves in her; a trident, emblematic of the U.S. Naval Power and supremacy; an anchor chain, linking the ships name and its designator symbols; the total purple lion, which was the coat of arms of Juan Ponce de Leon, a continuing reminder of our bond with the people of our namesake city. You may overhear several of the crew refer to our ship as the "Proud Lion".
More than 1,100 Atlantic Fleet Sailors and Marines left Norfolk on 10 June 1996 aboard USS Ponce (LPD 15) to support security operations off the coast of Liberia. The landing platform dock ship compliment included a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (SPMAGTF) from Marine Corps bases in North Carolina. The SPMAGTF, more than 700 combat-ready Marines, could conduct special operations, rescue downed pilots, and enhance security at facilities ashore. Once on station, Ponce supported security needs of the US Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia. It relieved USS Guam (LPH 9), USS Portland (LSD 37), and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).
USS Ponce (LPD 15) returned to Norfolk on 24 August 1996, after a 2-and-a-half month mission of providing security and other assistance to the US Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia. Deploying with only 10 days notice, Ponce carried a crew of more than 300 Sailors and 700 Marines from SPMAGTF 8, from Camp Lejuene, North Carolina. This was not the first time Ponce deployed to Liberian waters. In 1990, Ponce had also responded to Operation Sharp Edge, guarding American interests and supporting troops assigned to the area at the time.
On or about 31 December 2002, the USS Saipan and the USS Ponce departed Norfolk and headed to Naval Weapons Station Earle to onload ammunition, according to the Associated Press. Such a movement was highly unusual as neither of these ships was due to deploy until August 2003, and Amphibious Ready Groups normally make the trip to Earle only a few months prior to a deploment.
On 10 January 2003, a report in the Associated Press confirmed that the USS Ponce would deploy in support of the war against terrorism. Early indications were that the ship, along with the USS Saipan, would depart on or about 12 January 2003 and would either head to North Carolina to begin taking on elements of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade or would receive the Marines in Norfolk, Virginia.
Ponce demonstrated its capability to function as a staging platform in 2011. The joint operational capabilities of the United States armed forces were on display in the middle of "the Med" as amphibious transport dock USS Ponce (LPD 15) acted as a staging platform for a detachment of HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters from the US Air Force's 56th Rescue Squadron on 27 March 2011. Based out of RAF Lakenheath, England, the 2 helicopters and support personnel were forward deployed aboard the Ponce in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn, a joint coalition effort to enforce the UN Resolution 1973 that established a no-fly zone over the country of Libya.
The saltwater environment required the 56th Rescue Squadron's maintainers to step up the frequency of aircraft wash downs. While aboard Ponce they had to clean the aircraft almost daily to keep the salt corrosion under control. On a land base they would not have had to wash the aircraft so often to keep them in a high state of readiness. Life at sea also presented the unique experience of a living on a deck that moved on its own due to high seas. The Airmen of the 56th Rescue Squadron experienced generally good weather while aboard Ponce.
Amphibious transport dock USS Ponce (LPD 15) began what was planned to be her final operational assignments on 11 October 2011 as the crew prepared to close out the ship's nearly 41-year career. During the 2 months of training and port calls, the "Proud Lion" provided some final training services to the Marine Corps, as well as visit Port Canaveral, Florida; the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the ship's namesake city of Ponce, Puerto Rico; before returning to Naval Station Norfolk to begin the long decommissioning process. Ponce was homeported at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, and was scheduled to be decommissioned 20 March 2012. Over her nearly 41-year history, the ship had made numerous visits to Puerto Rico, but only 3 to Ponce.
Originally scheduled to be decomissioned in March 2012, it was first reported on 28 January 2012 that the decision had been made to send Ponce to the Middle East in response to a request of US Central Command (CENTCOM) to serve as a floating base for special operations forces. US Fleet Forces Command (USFF) began requesting volunteers from USFF activities to the Ponce for operations in the CENTCOM area of responsibility on 2 February 2012. It was also announced that the Ponce would be redesignated from LPD 15 to AFSB(I) 15 (Afloat Forward Staging Base [Interim] 15). The ship was to be commanded by a Navy captain and manned by a combined crew of officers, enlisted sailors, and Military Sealift Command government civilian mariners. Ponce would remain homeported at Naval Station Norfolk, Virignia. While deployed to the CENTCOM area of responsibility, Ponce would support Mine Counter Measure and Coastal Patrol ships, and aircraft operations with the capability to support multiple mission packages as detachments when requested by CENTCOM and/or US Fifth Fleet.
In April 2013, the US Navy announced plans to deploy for the first time a solid-state laser aboard a ship in fiscal year 2014. The ship selected for the deployment was the USS Ponce. The announcement to deploy the laser onboard USS Ponce came as Navy researchers continued to make significant progress on directed energy weapons, allowing the service to deploy a laser weapon on a Navy ship 2 years ahead of schedule. The at-sea demonstration in FY14 was part of a wider portfolio of near-term Navy directed energy programs that promise rapid fielding, demonstration and prototyping efforts for shipboard, airborne and ground systems.
Officials considered the solid-state laser a revolutionary technology that gave the Navy an extremely affordable, multi-mission weapon with a deep magazine and unmatched precision, targeting and control functions. As lasers ran on electricity, they could be fired as long as there was power and provide a measure of safety as they did not require carrying propellants and explosives aboard ships. Lasers would complement kinetic weapons to create a layered ship defense capability, providing improved protection against swarming small boats and unmanned aircraft at a fraction of the cost of traditional weapons. The advancing technology also gave sailors a variety of options they never had before, including the ability to control a laser weapon's output and perform actions ranging from non-lethal disabling and deterrence all the way up to destruction. Following the USS Ponce demonstration, the Navy and Department of Defense would continue to research ways to integrate affordable laser weapons into the fleet.
In December 2013, the USS Ponce conducted joint training with the US Army's 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, a part of the Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. The exercise involved training on operations with AH-64D Apache attack helicopters from the Ponce's flight deck. 4-227th Aviation was reported to have been part of a task force led by the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, Texas Army National Guard on deployment to the region in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Soldiers of the California Army National Guard's 40th Combat Aviation Brigade conducted an interoperability training exercise aboard the USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf 13-17 March 2016. CH-47 Chinook Helicopters from Company B, 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment, and AH-64 Apache helicopters from 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment landed aboard the USS Ponce to improve the two organizations’ ability to work together in operations in the Persian Gulf. The 40th CAB gains a lot from exercises like this because we get familiar with Naval operations and we’ve learned an incredible amount on how to work together in the combined fight here in the Arabian Gulf,” said Capt. King Moon, the assistant future operations officer for the 40th CAB. “The Soldiers had a great time just seeing how everything operates on a Navy ship.” The 40th CAB Soldiers armed the landed Apache helicopters with AGM-114 rockets and 30mm rounds for a nearby live-fire training range, giving both Soldiers and Sailors increased familiarity with supporting Army aircraft aboard a Navy ship.
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