Navy Times has posted a short article (1) describing the initial deployment of the USS Ponce which is the amphibious ship that was converted into an afloat forward staging base. Among other possible uses, the ship will provide mine countermeasures support, SOF support and command facilities, area surveillance via UAVs, mothership maintenance support to smaller vessels, and so forth. This is still a somewhat experimental concept in terms of opertional concepts and usefulness but it is good to see the Navy get more use out of an older amphibious ship rather than retire it.
|USS Ponce Recovering UAV|
The most interesting aspect of this is that the ship is largely crewed by civilians with roughly ¾ from the Military Sealift Command (MSC) and the remaining ¼ from the Navy. Given that the ship is intended to operate close to the action, that raises the likely possibility of combat operations by a civilian crewed ship. MSC has operated supply ships for the Navy for a long time and I’m sure the legal aspects of potential combat have long since been dealt with, however, this is the most extreme example of a civilian crewed ship intended to be very near the action that I’m aware of.
I wonder how combat, damage control, command, and discipline are handled? I know little about this aspect of the Navy but it’s a fascinating area.
(1) Navy Times, http://www.navytimes.com/news/2012/09/ap-navy-floating-base-gets-workout-092212/, Adam Schreck,
Sep 22, 2012