Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB (I) 15) was decommissioned 14 October in Norfolk, Virginia, after more than 46 years in service.
Best known in its last three years of service for shipboard US Navy laser-systems testing, Ponce served as an amphibious ship before proving out the navy’s AFSB concept.
The ship, commissioned in 1971, was the 12th and last of the Austin-class amphibious transport dock ships.
Originally scheduled for decommissioning in 2011, Ponce was refitted in 2012 as an AFSB, an afloat special operations staging base, similar to USS Kitty Hawk 's (CV 63) role as an afloat special operations staging base during Operation ‘Enduring Freedom’ in 2001.
Manned by a joint Navy-Military Sealift Command (MSC) crew, the ship was deployed to the US 5th Fleet area of operation, where it has served for the past five years mainly as a countermine-operations staging base, helping meet an urgent combatant commander requirement for sea-based support for mine warfare.
The ship also performed international maritime command-and-control missions, during which the crew launched, recovered, and sustained aircraft, riverine platforms, and other vessels.
The USN, encouraged by Ponce ’s work, used the ship’s operations as the template for expeditionary sea base ship USS Lewis B Puller (ESB 3), the first ship built specifically to be an AFSB.
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