According to the Washington Post the Pentagon is rushing to deploy a large floating base to serve as a "mother ship" for commando teams to the Middle East as tensions rise with Iran, Al Qaeda in Yemen and Somali pirates.
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.
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.
Navy documents indicate the Ponce, expected to carry small boats used by US Navy SEAL teams, would likely be deployed near the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to close.
Other documents indicate the refitted "mother ship" would be used to “support mine countermeasure” missions in the Strait of Hormuz, which defense officials believe would be Iran's principle tactic in seeking to close the waterway.
The strait, between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, is a vital 20-mile-wide link for Gulf oil-exporting nations and the shipping lanes to oil-importing nations.
The US Fifth Fleet is already based in Bahrain, and one or two additional carrier groups are in striking distance of the Persian Gulf and surrounding waters, representing a significant naval presence in the region.
The Ponce's presence, analysts say, would be dedicated to facilitating covert missions like the one carried out by Navy SEALS in Somalia last week.
Last Wednesday, U.S. Navy SEALs raided a pirate camp in Somalia where an American woman and Danish man were being held hostage. The mission resulted in nine pirates being killed and both hostages being freed.