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Intro: "The Pentagon is rushing to send a large floating base for commando teams to the Middle East as tensions rise with Iran, al-Qaeda in Yemen and Somali pirates, among other threats."

The United States amphibious assault ship USS Ponce may become a special ops 'mothership' patrolling the waters of the Middle East. (photo: US Navy)
The United States amphibious assault ship USS Ponce may become a special ops 'mothership' patrolling the waters of the Middle East. (photo: US Navy)

Pentagon Wants Commando 'Mothership' in Middle East

By Craig Whitlock, The Washington Post

28 January 12


he Pentagon is rushing to send a large floating base for commando teams to the Middle East as tensions rise with Iran, al-Qaeda in Yemen and Somali pirates, among other threats.

In response to requests from U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, the Navy is converting an aging warship it had planned to decommission into a makeshift staging base for the commandos. Unofficially dubbed a "mothership," the floating base could accommodate smaller high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by Navy SEALs, procurement documents show.

Special Operations forces are a key part of the Obama administration's strategy to make the military leaner and more agile as the Pentagon confronts at least $487 billion in spending cuts over the next decade.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for the Navy's Fleet Forces Command, declined to elaborate on the floating base's purpose or to say where, exactly, it will be deployed in the Middle East. Other Navy officials acknowledged that they were moving with unusual haste to complete the conversion and send the mothership to the region by early summer.

Navy documents indicate that it could be headed to the Persian Gulf, where Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping route for much of the world's oil supply. A market survey proposal from the Military Sealift Command, dated Dec. 22 and posted online, states that the floating base needed to be delivered to the Persian Gulf.

Other contract documents do not specify a location but say the mothership would be used to "support mine countermeasure" missions. Defense officials have said that if Iran did attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, it would rely on mines to obstruct the waterway.

With a large naval base in Bahrain, and one or two aircraft carrier groups usually assigned to the region, the Navy has a substantial presence in the Persian Gulf and surrounding waters. Adding the mothership would do relatively little to bolster U.S. maritime power overall, but it could play an instrumental role in secretive commando missions offshore.

The deployment of the floating base could also mark a return to maritime missions for SEAL teams, which for the past decade have spent most of their time on land in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Other details of the project became public Tuesday when the Military Sealift Command posted a bid request to retrofit the USS Ponce, an amphibious transport docking ship, on a rush-order basis.

Until December, the Navy had planned to retire the Ponce and decommission it in March after 41 years of service. Among other missions, it was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea last year in support of NATO's air war over Libya.

Instead, the ship will be modified into what the military terms an Afloat Forward Staging Base. Kafka said it would be used to support mine-clearance ships, smaller patrol ships and aircraft.

The documents posted by the Military Sealift Command in December, however, specify that the mothership will be rebuilt so that it can also serve as a docking station for several small high-speed boats and helicopters commonly used by Navy SEAL teams.

Among the vessels listed are Mark 5 Zodiacs, inflatable boats that can carry up to 15 passengers and can roll up into bags, and seven-meter-long Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats, which can carry an entire SEAL squad.

SEAL teams also deploy from regular warships, but most vessels in the Navy's fleet must patrol or move around on a regular basis. A mothership can stay in one spot for weeks or months, effectively serving as a floating base for commandos as they monitor coastal areas or prepare for amphibious operations.

The U.S. Special Operations Command has sought a transportable floating base for several years, saying that a mothership would expand the range of commando squads operating from small speedboats, particularly in remote coastal areas.

Defense officials said the Ponce will serve as a stopgap measure until the Navy can build a new Afloat Forward Staging Base from scratch. In budget documents released Thursday, the Pentagon said it would fund that project starting next year.

The floating base also could be suited to the coast of Somalia, a failed state that is home to an al-Qaeda affiliate and gangs of pirates. A mothership there would give SEALs or other commandos more flexibility in missions such as Wednesday's rescue of a pair of American and Danish hostages who had been held for months by Somali pirates.

The term "mothership" is also commonly used to describe a vessel used by Somali pirates. After hijacking a large container or cargo vessel, pirate crews often turn it into a floating base to extend the range of their skiffs or speedboats far into the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf.

U.S. military officials declined to say what prompted them to give the Ponce a sudden new lease on life. But contract and bidding documents underscore the urgency of the project.

One no-bid contract for engineering work states that the military was waiving normal procurement rules because any delay presented a "national security risk." Other contract bids are due Feb. 3. The Navy wants the conversion work to begin 10 days later on the Ponce, which is docked in Virginia Beach. your social media marketing partner


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+15 # RMDC 2012-01-28 19:31
What a bullshit article. The Wash Pissed is incapable to telling the truth. US commandos and special ops are terrorists.

The Pentagon is not being cut by $487 billion over ten years. That's only a reduction in the rate of increase. The budget will still go up and over ten years about $15 trillion will be wasted in criminal enterprises.

If you don't want to be attacked by Somali pirates, then keep you ass out of their territorial waters. Somalis have a right to defend their coastline. Ships from all nations have been dumping toxic waste there and they should be captured.
+1 # CandH 2012-01-28 23:08
Yep, but it IS the WP. Everyone acknowledges it's essentially the mouthpiece of the CIA, ergo, "we're protecting people from pirates" propaganda cr*p (expect to see "hostage rescues" to follow this by-line accordingly.)

It says it's going to the "Persian Gulf," and not the Strait specifically. Either way, it's reconnaissance and forward mission-specifi c. In other words, Seal Teams DON'T rescue hostages from pirates, unless their the Princess of Qatar, or one of the upper Saudi royals. Waste of manpower/intell igence.
+1 # RMDC 2012-01-29 20:08
That's right CandH -- the Wash Post was created by Philip Graham who was in the OSS during WW II. The OSS was the precurson to the CIA. When Graham married Katherine Meyer, her father gave him the Post as a wedding present. He had to leave the CIA but told friends that he could be more useful as editor and publisher of the Post than he could be at the CIA. So it goes even today.
+1 # Buddha 2012-01-30 11:55
While I'm not going to touch your over the top assertation that our military forces are "terrorists", you are totally off-base on Somalia. Their pirates aren't "defending their coastline" or operating only in "their terrotorial waters", they range far out into the Indian ocean, capturing vessels and sailboats all the way out to the Seychelles and Madegascar. Hostage taking is how they and their warlords are being funded, and this is a consequence of a lack of a central government. Stop messaging that these pirates are Greenpeace, taking hostages because of toxic waste dumping, because that is pure bs and makes us on the Left look like idiots.
+4 # tedrey 2012-01-28 23:36
This is a response to so-called "rising tensions" well calculated to raise tensions further.
Do the military realize what a glorious magnet this will be for terrorists wanting a new target for a 911 attack?
Or do they intend to shoot down every airliner that passes within miles of where they happen to be at the time, which would be the only defense?
+2 # itchyvet 2012-01-29 03:00
Agree, total bullshit from start to finish, but the masses are idiots and would believe anything they are told by their Govt and military personel.
The FACTS are, this ship has been DECOMMISSIONED, in other words a hairs breathe away from being cut up as scrap.
Moreover folks, this is not the ONLY DECOMMISSIONED ship being dug out of the scrap heap, an aircraft carrier is also being dug out and sent off, though for this one, they gave a different excuse.
Question I have, what with all the brand spnaking new hi tech technology, why is it neccessary to dig clunkers out and recommission them at this point in time ?
Could it be, like Pearl Harbour, they need a sacraficial lamb or two for a false flag event ?
Think about it, it's been done before.
+4 # Nel 2012-01-29 07:04
911 "terrorist" attack?
tedrey, you forgot to name them.
The same false flag "terrorists" will attack the USA ships to cause the USA to attack Iran.
+1 # John Locke 2012-01-29 10:45
Nel: Good Point, The US will require some form of "attack" (think PNAC, Iran and Syria) even if its a phantom attack to get the American people involved in WW3...sadly in seeing the level of intelligence in the US. the people will buy into it. The US has every intent to attack Iran under some or any fabricated premise...and that for sure will spur the economies of the world. It will also line the pockets of the Banks and the 1%. If we are so stupid as to attack Iran, it will end up being the US, Israel and UK against the entire civilized world. Including Russia and China...I don't believe even with our military superiority, we can win, especially in light of our three successive losses...But according to the belief of the 1% all this will trickle down to the 99% in financial benefits...(you betcha Red Rider) We still need a planet to live on!
+1 # cordleycoit 2012-01-29 10:41
More like the Brits hulk where they stored prisoners for years. A bit of American soil to disappear the unlucky and dissidents under the flag of pax Americana. Surprised they hasn't raised a galley so we all can be galley slaves.
0 # jwb110 2012-01-29 12:39
Seems to me that the first move would be to convert all of the ships in the US Navy to nuclear power. We had some until Bush 2 took over and they were de-commissioned . About 95% of the oil imported to the US is for the Navy. I'd rather see the money spent to convert the fleet to non-oil use than fool around with some gonzo plan for a leaner more agile military. I heard the same thing from Rumsfeld and look where that got us.
If you want real lean and agile get off OIL.
+2 # ozken 2012-01-30 10:03
Lt. Cmdr. Mike Kafka hey - what a very appropriate moniker for somebody involved in this latest idiocy.
The term Kafkaesque has been described as "marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity: Kafkaesque bureaucracies" and "marked by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger: Kafkaesque fantasies of the impassive interrogation, the false trial, the confiscated passport ... haunt his innocence."It can also describe an intentional distortion of reality by powerful but anonymous bureaucrats. "Lack of evidence is treated as a pesky inconvenience, to be circumvented by such Kafkaesque means as depositing unproven allegations into sealed files..." Another definition would be an existentialist state of ever-elusive freedom while existing under immitigable control. The adjective refers to anything suggestive of Kafka, especially his nightmarish style of narration, in which characters lack a clear course of action, the ability to see beyond immediate events, and the possibility of escape. The term's meaning has transcended the literary realm to apply to real-life occurrences and situations that are incomprehensibl y complex, bizarre, or illogical.

Yep - sounds like the Pentagon.
0 # Buddha 2012-01-30 11:58
The value of such a vessel is predicated on the belief that it is in our national interest to maintain a Global Empire, and forces deployed across the world. As long as we insist on being captives to a Fossil Fuel/Oil economy, then the Middle East will have huge strategic value. Seems to me a wiser approach would be to wean ourselves off oil, but to suggest that to Conservatives today is like telling a heroin dealer that they have to stop selling smack...

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