Farewell, Lion: headed to the great razor blade store in the sky (not Port Stanley)
Named for the Puerto Rican city of the same name, Ponce served mostly in the Atlantic Fleet, completing 27 deployments in the North Atlantic, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf.
Originally slated for decommissioning in 2011, the “Proud Lion” was refitted and reclassified, based on the USS Kitty Hawk’s (CV 63) role as an afloat special operation staging base during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. And, she was outfitted with a joint Navy – Military Sealift Command (MSC) crew.
Forward deployed for the past five years, the crew provided vital support to U.S. and allied forces in the U.S. 5th Fleet and Central Command, primarily during mine countermeasures operations, but also in international maritime command and control roles. In doing so, the crew launched, recovered and sustained multiple aircraft, riverine and other vessels. Their actions led to the ship and its crew being awarded the Combat Action Ribbon.
All points Falklands?
Contrary to some reports that had her going to Argentina, which caused heartburn in London, the 46-year-old Ponce now joins the inactive fleet and will be dismantled.
Why was that such a big deal?
During the 1982 Falklands Islands War, the Argentine Navy used three new 10,000-ton Costa Sur-class light cargo ships and a 7,800-ton LST (ARA Cabo San Antonio) to invade the islands, with the latter transporting a mixed battalion of two Marine companies, an Army infantry unit, and 20 LVTP7 Amtracs in the initial attack and the cargo ships landing follow-on supplies to bolster the division-sized garrison.
However, Cabo San Antonio was retired in 1997, leaving just the three cargo ships.
One of the trio, Bahia San Blas, has been converted since then to something akin to the amphibious cargo ships used in island hopping during WWII and has carried Argentine Army troops to Haiti and the former Yugoslavia on UN peacekeeping missions.
However, while Bahia San Blas can carry a couple hundred sea sick guys in sleeping bags, four LCVP’s on deck (or the Argentine Marine’s aging Amtracs) and containerized cargo, she lacks a dry well for larger landing craft or accommodation for helicopters, meaning she still needs a length of pier to unload and isn’t able to “kick in the door” in a serious amphibious assault with much more than a company-sized force.
Comment on the above from Admiral Lord West, former head of the Royal Navy, and the prospect of the Argies getting Ponce: “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.”