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.”
The USS Ponce, now over 40 years old and officially Afloat Force Service Base (Interim) AFSB(I), up until a few weeks ago served as a floating base for NSW, MCM, and other activities in the very warm standoff between the West and Iran in the Persian Gulf.
Ponce is among the Navy’s oldest ships. Construction began in 1966, and it was commissioned during the Nixon administration in 1971. Once an Austin-class amphibious transport dock, after 2012 she was hybrid civilian (MSC) and Navy crewed after she had been selected for decommissioning and began deactivation. This kept her in the Gulf with a fleet of Sea Dragon mine-sweeping choppers, random patrol boat crews (most of the Navy’s operational 170-foot Cyclone-class PCs are in the Gulf as well as a few Coast Guard 110’s), and unnamed special ops characters aboard.
She also packed a 30kW Laser Weapon System (LaWS) which drew a lot of attention.
Now, with her post assumed by the new and purpose-built USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), Ponce has returned to the states and is preparing to decommission for good, slated for dismantling.
From the ship’s social media:
AFSB(I)-15 was the first ship to be fully realized and dedicated as an afloat forward staging base. The lessons learned from Ponce’s employment will be incorporated in future expeditionary sea bases to be built over the next 15 years. Its performance in this role will be used as a model for concepts and developments across the 30-year shipbuilding plan. Additionally, the ship and its crew provided unmatched UAV, minesweeping, multinational aircraft and amphibious support during TF 51/5-led missions.
Ponce was relieved in U.S 5th Fleet by the expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), the first U.S. ship commissioned outside the United States and the first ship built specifically for the purpose of serving as an afloat, forward-staging base.
After over 46 years of honorable active service, the current crew comprised of Sailors and Civilian Mariners will complete the decommissioning process with the ceremony scheduled for Saturday, October 14th.
However, with her livewell, large helicopter deck, accomidations, fuel and provisions storage and Joint Operations Center with the best commo afloat, some argue she could get one last and very timely hurrah in Puerto Rico helping with the Hurricane Maria recovery effort.
Food for thought.
War Is Boring is reporting that the Houthi rebels in Yemen, which comprise some 20,000-strong mostly derp militiamen, has been taking pop-shots at passing shipping going as far back as last October with Chinese-made C.801 missiles salvaged from a trio of likewise Chinese-made Type 021 fast attack craft (based on the 1960s Soviet Osa-class) that defected to the Houth back in 2014.
As each Type 21 had up to four C.801s (NATO: CSS-N-4 Sardines), which in theory gave the Houthi a cool dozen anti-ship missiles. This means, barring resupply from countries that rhyme with “ShIran” they may be running low on things to sling at ships in their littoral larger than RPGs. In recent weeks, one has been fired (successfully) at HSV Swift, and as many as six in three attacks with much less luck at USS Mason.
The first attacks was reported on Oct. 8, 2015 — around a week after a combined force of Emirati, Bahraini and Qatari troops forced the Yemenis to withdraw to the port of Mocha, 40 kilometers north of the strategically important Bab Al Mandab Strait, which connects the Red Sea, and thus the Suez Canal, with the Indian Ocean.
According to official reports from the Yemeni capital Sana’a, which is now under Houthi control, this attack “destroyed” the Saudi navy tanker Yunbou. Two nights later, the pro-Houthi Yemenis struck again, this time reportedly targeting either the Saudi navy tanker Boraida or an Egyptian navy warship the Houthis identified as Al Mahrousa.
In truth, neither Boraida nor Yunbou was even damaged, while Al Mahrousa is a 150-year-old presidential yacht that has certainly never ventured anywhere near Yemen in years.
In the latest escalation in the saga of ongoing asymmetric warfare by proxy in the Middle East region that has been on a low simmer since 1979 between the U.S. and Iran with brief periods of boiling, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87) let slip the dogs of war in the form of two Standard Missile-2s (SM-2s) and a single Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM)– aimed at a pair of suspected cruise missiles fired from the Yemini shore.
Mason, deployed as part of the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, along with another destroyer and the hybrid afloat base USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) have been in international waters near the strait of Bab el-Mandeb this week following the sucker punch of the unarmed and civilian-manned HSV Swift last weekend.
As reported by USNI News, it would be the first time that SM-2 was used against an enemy missile and the first time ESSM has been used in warfare at all.
Then came a second report of a failed launch against Mason Tuesday in which the destroyer used soft-kill defensive countermeasures to defeat the incoming vampire(s).
Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the U.S. “will take action accordingly,” in response to the findings of the ongoing investigation.
In the meantime…
The following is a statement released today by Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook on U.S. military strikes against radar sites in Yemen:
“Early this morning local time, the U.S. military struck three radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen’s Red Sea coast. Initial assessments show the sites were destroyed. The strikes — authorized by President Obama at the recommendation of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford — targeted radar sites involved in the recent missile launches threatening USS Mason and other vessels operating in international waters in the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb. These limited self-defense strikes were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships, and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway. The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate, and will continue to maintain our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb, and elsewhere around the world.”
The guided missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94) launches a strike against three coastal radar sites in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen’s Red Sea coast. Due to hostile acts, continuing and imminent threat of force, and multiple threats to vessels in the Bab-al Mandeb Strait, including U.S. naval vessels, Nitze struck the sites, which were used to attack U.S. ships operating in international waters, threatening freedom of navigation. Nitze is deployed to the 5th Fleet area of operations to support maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts:
The Pentagon Press Brief on the strike is majestic craw-fishing to avoid saying “Iran”
Over the weekend news and video surfaced that the former HSV Swift, which had been leased to MSC for 10 years from 2003-2013 and is currently owned by Emirates-based UAE Marine Dredging Company but was chartered by the United Arab Emirates military for coastal transport, was sunk after a missile attack by Houthis rebels.
Well, it turns out that the ship was able to make it to port and all of her 24 (mostly Indian and Ukrainian) civilian mariners are safe. But she is likely headed for the scrappers after being hellah banged up as reported by The Drive.
Reports now indicate the weapons used could have been Chinese-built C-802 anti-ship missiles (NATO reporting name CSS-N-8 Saccade) or guided anti-tank weapons. I can see that. After all, one has to remember what happened to the aluminum-superstructure of the Argentine corvette ARA Guerrico at the hands of a force of Royal Marines on South Georgia who had a few simple 84mm rockets and small arms back in 1982.
Meanwhile, three US Navy warships have been dispatched to the coast of Yemen following the Swift incident. The Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Nitze (DDG-94), USS Mason (DDG-87) and the MSC-manned laser-slinging afloat forward staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) are now stationed near Bab Al Mandeb strait where the missile attack took place.
In other news, the Saudis are holding a big naval drill, Gulf Shield 1, and Iran is suggesting the kingdom’s deputy crown prince is so “impatient” he may kill his own father to take the throne. Oh, Iran…
We have talked about the 30kW active laser on the USS Ponce, the converted old gator used as an afloat forward staging base with a hybrid 55-man USN/150 MSC crew conducting spec op/counter mine/counter-terr operations in the Persian Gulf several times.
Well it looks like the Navy is finally going full frontal with the deployed laser on board.
ARLINGTON, Va (NNS) — Officials at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) announced today the laser weapon system (LaWS) – a cutting-edge weapon that brings significant new capabilities to America’s Sailors and Marines – was for the first time successfully deployed and operated aboard a naval vessel in the Arabian Gulf.
The operational demonstrations, which took place from September to November aboard USS Ponce (AFSB[I] 15), were historic not only because they showed a laser weapon working aboard a deployed U.S. Navy ship, but also because LaWS operated seamlessly with existing ship defense systems.
“Laser weapons are powerful, affordable and will play a vital role in the future of naval combat operations,” said Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research. “We ran this particular weapon, a prototype, through some extremely tough paces, and it locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality.”
During the tests, LaWS – a collaborative effort between ONR, Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Research Laboratory, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division and industry partners — hit targets mounted aboard a speeding oncoming small boat, shot a Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) out of the sky, and destroyed other moving targets at sea.
Sailors worked daily with LaWS over several months since it was installed, and reported the weapon performed flawlessly, including in adverse weather conditions of high winds, heat and humidity. They noted the system exceeded expectations for both reliability and maintainability.
The system is operated by a video-game like controller, and can address multiple threats using a range of escalating options, from non-lethal measures such as optical “dazzling” and disabling, to lethal destruction if necessary. It could prove to be a pivotal asset against what are termed “asymmetric threats,” which include small attack boats and UAVs.
Data regarding accuracy, lethality and other factors from the Ponce deployment will guide the development of weapons under ONR’s Solid-State Laser-Technology Maturation program. Under this program, industry teams have been selected to develop cost-effective, combat-ready laser prototypes that could be installed on vessels such as guided-missile destroyers and the Littoral Combat Ship in the early 2020s.
The USS Ponce (LPD-15/AFSBI-15) the last ship standing of the 1960s era Austin-class amphibious transport docks, has been floating quietly in the Persian Gulf since 2012 as an “Afloat Forward Staging Base, Interim (AFSB-I) with a hybrid civilian (MSC) and Navy crew after she had been selected for decommissioning and began deactivation. Now supporting a fleet of Sea Dragon mine-sweeping choppers, random patrol boat crews (most of the Navy’s operational 170-foot Cyclone class PCs are in the Gulf as well as a few Coast Guard 110’s), and unnamed special ops characters, the elderly vessel also officially has an active laser weapon.
As confirmed by Bloomberg, USS Ponce has been patrolling with a prototype 30-kilowatt-class Laser Weapon System since late August .
The laser’s range is classified.
Back in 2007, the US Navy started looking at high-energy lasers for use as an active weapon. The most promising of these, the Laser Weapons System (LaWS) has already downed target aircraft and is on the way to the fleet.
(The LaWS prototype aboard the USS Dewey in 2012)
The LaWS uses series of six commercially available 5.4-kW fiber lasers focused through a frequency doubling crystal. This active laser system can fire a very tight 32kW beam at line of sight ranges than can travel in excess of 10-miles on a clear day. The typical commercially availible red laser pointer is about 1 milliwatts and is advertised to be able to damage your retinas if you stare into it. This laser is 32-kW, which means that it is 32,000,000-times more powerful than the thing you chase your cat around the house with. It costs some $32-million to develop, which may seem like a lot but when compared to such high-tech weapons as the multi-billion dollar F-35, it’s a comparative bargain.
How effective is it?
In a recent test aboard the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Dewey last summer the LaWS prototype downed a BQM-147A target UAV drone. This weapon, when fielded will be able to shoot down slow moving aircraft, such as UAVs and helicopters, as well as be able to engage small boats and possibly even targets ashore. Its beam does not have to destroy the target if not required. It can simply damage it, blind its sensors, or in the place of a small boat, kill its engine and leave it dead in the water.
If just a small portion of the laser energy is used, rather than a full power blast, an intense and visible beam can be projected to significant ranges to provide a clear and unmistakable warning that a potential target is about to be zapped unless an immediate change in their behavior is observed. This feature could also be used as a laser dazzler, a sort of less-lethal weapon, to disorient and warn away the crew of an aircraft or ship. In short the LaWS could be used to ‘flash’ an approaching unidentified craft at long distances, in the hope that a little bit of eye irritation could result in saving lives on both sides. While the 1995 United Nations Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons bans weapons designed to cause permanent blindness, the use of the LaWS in this sense could be examined if it could be turned down enough to not cause permanent damage.
A test video of the LaWS in action, shooting down a remotely piloted UAV drone. Pretty dramatic footage. From the Navy’s website: “120804-N-ZZ999-001 SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Jul. 30, 2012) the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) (shown here conducting an operational test) in San Diego, Calif., is a technology demonstrator built by the Naval Sea Systems Command from commercial fiber solid state lasers, utilizing combination methods developed at the Naval Research Laboratory. LaWS can be directed onto targets from the radar track obtained from a MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon system or other targeting source. The Office of Naval Research’s Solid State Laser (SSL) portfolio includes LaWS development and upgrades providing a quick reaction capability for the fleet with an affordable SSL weapon prototype. This capability provides Navy ships a method for Sailors to easily defeat small boat threats and aerial targets without using bullets. (U.S. Navy video by Office of Naval Research/ Released)”
Smoke one UAV
Costs $1 per shot
According to the Navy, the LaWS can fire a full-power burst that costs less than $1 per session. By comparison a SM-2MR surface to air missile, the Navy’s standard plane and missile killer for the past thirty years, costs about $400,000 a pop. Even smaller close in point defense type missiles such as the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) can run over $700K apiece. Further, whereas the number of missiles, shells, and bullets carried by a ship is always finite, as long as the ship’s engineering department can produce power, the LaWS can be fired.
This beast is the old 1989-era Sea Lite Beam Director, the Navy’s first active high-energy laser. Well, the USN has now figured out how to shrink this down to package that is more pallet-sized than supersized.
How will it look when it is adopted?
LaWS will deploy on the Persian Gulf next year on the USS Ponce. The Ponce is a nearly 50-year old former amphibious warfare ship that had been converted to an Afloat Forward Staging Base inthe Persian Gulf. An experimental Ord-Alt’ed CIWS on the Ponce is expected to carry the system sometime after October 2013.
The current US Navy’s Phalanx MK15 Close In Weapons System (CIWS) fires a high-speed computer controlled radar guided 20mm Gatling gun at over 4500-rounds per minute. It’s expected that the Navy will add the LaWS laser to this already cutting-edge gun after 2016.
(The red ‘can’ on the side of the CIWS is the LaWS laser…coming to the fleet at least in experimental form as early as this year)
The Navy is intending to add this system to the more than 250 CIWS Phalanx mounts found through the fleet. These devices are the familiar R2D2-looking systems that marry a small radar, fire-control system, and 20mm Vulcan cannon to track targets out to 10 miles away and destroy them once they are within 2.2-miles with accurate gunfire. The addition of the LaWS laser to this will allow the CIWS to engage threats first with the laser then with the 20mm Vulcan if needed.
This combined laser/gun mount, after testing and acceptance will be known as the CIWS Mk 15 Mod 41 with production and fielding in the fleet by 2017.
Times, it seems, they are a changing.
North Korea says what?
The USS Ponce, now over forty years old and officially Afloat Force Service Base (Interim) AFSB(I), still serves as a floating base for NSW, MCM, and other activities in the very warm standoff between the West and Iran in the Persian Gulf.
From a recent article about the old girl, ” Although it is under the command of a Navy captain, most of the Ponce‘s crew are civilians. It has more than 155 civilian crew members from the Military Sealift Command and 55 Navy sailors, according to the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Jon Rodgers. The number of civilian crew can fluctuate depending on who is onboard.
The MSC is normally responsible for running about 110 supply ships and other non-combat vessels for the Navy, but the Ponce‘s hybrid crew is unusual.
Visitors arriving by helicopter are met on the flight deck by some crew in uniform and others in civilian coveralls. Civilian employees keep the floors and toilets clean, and dish out corned beef hash and French toast on the mess deck. Some of the MSC crew members have dreadlocks — a no-no for enlisted sailors — and many are in their 40s or beyond. A handful are older than 60.
It’s not just the civilian crew that’s showing its age. The Ponce is among the Navy’s oldest ships. Construction began in 1966, and it was commissioned during the Nixon administration in 1971.
Rust is prevalent throughout the ship, and many of the fittings retain a Cold War feel.”
Read more here