U.S. 'mothership' heading to Mideast

Jan. 28, 2012 at 2:42 PM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Defense Department plans to send an aging warship to serve as a floating base for commando teams to the Middle East, officials say.

The Navy, responding to requests from the U.S. Central Command, is converting the ship, which had been slated to be decommissioned, into a staging base for the commandos, The Washington Post reported.

The Post noted the move comes as tensions rise in the region with threats from Iran, al-Qaida in Yemen and Somali pirates, among others.

Procurement documents reveal what officials call the "mothership" could hold smaller high-speed boats and helicopters often used by Navy SEALs.

Navy officials said they hope to complete the conversion and move the ship to the region by early summer.

Lt. Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for the Navy's Fleet Forces Command, would not elaborate on the purpose of the base or say where it would be deployed in the Middle East.

Navy documents show the ship could be headed to the Persian Gulf, where Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a critical shipping route for oil.

Until last month, the Navy had planned to retire and decommission the Ponce, which was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea last year in support of NATO's air war over Libya, after the ship served 41 years.

Kafka said the ship would be used to support mine-clearance ships, smaller patrol ships and aircraft.

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