Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Base Afloat in the Persian Gulf Displays New U.S. Way of War

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Base Afloat in the Persian Gulf Displays New U.S. Way of War

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- One of the Navy's oldest transport ships, now converted into one of its newest platforms for warfare, arrived off Bahrain late last week, a major addition to the enlarged presence of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf designed as a counter to Iran.

The keel for the ship, the Ponce, was cast in 1966, and the vessel, nearing the end of its service, was to have been scrapped. But the Ponce was reborn as a floating forward base for staging important military operations across the region -- the latest example of the new U.S. way of war.

The first mission of the reborn Ponce was designed to be low profile and defensive, as an operations hub for mine clearing in the Strait of Hormuz, a counter to threats from Tehran to close the vital commercial waterway. In that role, the Ponce will be a launching pad for helicopters, a home to underwater diver teams and a service station providing fuel and maintenance for mine-sweeping ships.

But with the relatively simple addition of a modular barracks on the deck, the Ponce can also be a mobile base for several hundred Special Operations forces to carry out missions such as hostage rescue, counterterrorism, reconnaissance, sabotage and direct strikes. Even with the addition of the barracks, there is ample room for helicopters and the small, fast boats favored by commandos.

Allies and friends are important, but they can veto U.S. missions initiated from bases on their territory. The Ponce operates from international waters. Surprise and speed are critical to military success; the Ponce can sail close to areas of conflict. And having the ability to carry out different missions for different armed services branches is more valuable than having a weapons platform that does just one thing for one military branch.

Iranian leaders see the Ponce differently, of course, and they have lashed out at the U.S. deployments, accusing Washington of mounting a provocative military buildup. (The U.S. reinforcements also include a doubling of minesweepers, to eight, and the addition of Air Force fighter and attack jets.) An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander even threatened that his nation would counter the moves by ordering a buildup of missiles that could endanger U. …

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