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USS Ponce Returns From Final Deployment Ahead of Decommissioning

Sailors and civilian contractors assigned to Commander, Task Group (CTG) 56.1 aboard a rigid-hull inflatable boat carrying underwater unmanned vehicles are craned onto the ship during mine countermeasure training operations aboard the Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) in 2015. US Navy Photo

The converted amphibious warship that served as an experimental platform for special operations forces, minehunting helicopters and the Navy’s first operational laser weapon is back in the U.S. after more than five years operating in the Middle East.

USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15), a former Austin-class landing platform dock, had served since 2012 as the service’s interim afloat forward staging base operating in U.S. 5th Fleet until its return on Wednesday.

Expeditionary base USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), left, the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6), the amphibious dock landing ship USS Pearl Harbor (LSD-52) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Howard (DDG-83), back, are underway in formation on Sept. 16, 2017. US Navy Photo

“It’s simply not possible to recount the extraordinary things Ponce has accomplished in her 46 years of service, but it is sufficient to say that the durability, flexibility and clarity of design inherent in Ponce will be missed,” Brig. Gen. Francis L. Donovan, commander, Naval Amphibious Forces, Task Force 51, 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade said in a statement.
“The high standard you demonstrated throughout the deployment in direct support of real-world operations was critical to national interests of the United States.”

The ship was relieved in the Middle East by the purpose-built expeditionary mobile base, USS Lewis Puller (ESB-3), earlier this month.

In addition to hosting mine countermeasure (MCM) MH-53 Sea Dragons, unmanned minehuntung underwater vehicles, Ponce fielded the service’s first operational laser– the 30 kilowatt Laser Weapon System (LaWS) which was first approved to be used in 2014, then-Office of Naval Research chief Rear Adm. Matt Klunder told reporters at the time.

The system will not be transferred to Puller.

“While LaWS on Ponce provided the Navy some initial learning in an operational environment, including how to maintain such a system in the stressing maritime environment, there are no plans to incorporate LaWS on Lewis B. Puller at this time. The Navy will continue to explore options for incorporating directed energy (DE) weapons aboard Navy assets,” the service said in a statement last month.

As an Austin-class LPD, the ship conducted 27 deployments since its commissioning in 1971 before its conversion to the AFSB.

The Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (ASB(I) 15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Arabian Gulf on Nov. 16, 2014. US Navy photo.

“During her time in the 5th Fleet, Ponce deployed throughout the Gulf of Aden, Horn of Africa, South Red Sea and [Persian] Gulf to conduct expeditionary operations in support of diverse missions that included crisis response, airborne mine countermeasures, counter-piracy operations, maritime security operations and humanitarian aid/disaster relief missions,” read a statement from the service.

Now with the ship back in the U.S., it’s set for decommissioning and dismantling later this year.

  • Maybe we can sell it to the Philippines who need a Sealift and Sea basing Capability as well.

    • Secundius

      Not likely!/? In June 2014, the Philippines bought several South Korean “Pohang” class Corvettes that we’re scheduled to be Decommissioned. To use them as “Poor Man’s” Assault Ships, by removing the Engine Space for the Gas Turbine and using the Engine Space as a “Barracks” Berthing for Filipino Marines…

      • That’s why they need an LSD and LPD for Sea basing.

        • Secundius

          The last LST the Philippine Navy had?/! The Philippine’s purposely BEACHED to keep an Eye Out on the EVER expanding Chinese encroachment into Philippine Territorial Waters. I suspect the same would happen to the “Ponce”, if the Philippine’s were ever to acquire her…

          • Rob C.

            It’s better than having her scrapped. At least she be working protect sea lanes, even if she isn’t able to be mobile again.

          • Secundius

            That’s ALWAYS assuming that the Philippine acquire her and not the Scrapyards Torch.

            On another Note, the US Senate has Approved Final Disposition of SIX “Oliver Hazard Perry” class Frigates. Four to Taiwan (FFG-50, Taylor, FFG-51, Gary, FFG-51, Carr and FFG-55, Elrod) and Two to Mexico (FFG-38, Curtis and FFG-41, McClusky) Sale during the 2013 Sequestration…

          • D. Jones

            Senate again, always giving stuff away. grrrrrrr. How about keeping the OHP’s and giving the LCS to Mexico.

          • Secundius

            My understanding is that the SALE was made in 2013, just prior to the 2013 Sequester. And placed on Hold until the 2013 Sequester ended in June 2017. With Final Disposition being made sometime between June 2017 and September 2017…

    • USNVO

      A 46 year old steam powered ship is probably not what they need. Way too much crew and maintenance expense. The LSD-41s would be better but they have a long way to sail before they are decommissioned.

    • DaSaint

      There are other, cheaper options out there. Purpose built, diesel powered LSTs from Daewoo in South Korea or Damen in the Netherlands, or BMT from the UK.

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    A legendary ship that gave great service

  • Ed L

    I remember back when I was on LPD’s of this class. There was talk of SLEP the class and it was even batted about reengining them to diesel power. The boat and aircraft crane is a big improvement over the one we had on the Sheveport.

    • publius_maximus_III

      Thanks for your service to your country, Ed.

      • Ed L

        I not comfortable with that phase. I want an apology from those scum that threw crap at me and called me a baby killer and a murderer. And then they can throw themsleves into a shark tank

        • publius_maximus_III

          …or take a knee on the million dollar gridiron.

    • draeger24

      Ed, when were you on Shreveport? I was on their with my SEAL Platoon 93-94 for “the Mog”….great cruise. Ha- one of the guys who was a SN in that platoon just retired as an SOCM from DEVGRU on Friday….how time flies. GOD Bless.

  • leesea

    WHY decomm the Ponce? She is in decent operating condition with her hybrid crew. See what INSURV says but don’t assume the ship is worthless.
    How about a complete overhaul to have her meet newer AFSB rqmts and go forward. Surely that would cost Less than the $500 MILLION the Navy wants to spend on more ESBs? Maybe the Denver too?