Among the vessels listed are Mark 5 Zodiacs, inflatable boats that can carry up to 15 passengers and can roll up into bags, and seven-meter-long Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats, which can carry an entire SEAL squad.
SEAL teams also deploy from regular warships, but most vessels in the Navy’s fleet must patrol or move around on a regular basis. A mothership can stay in one spot for weeks or months, effectively serving as a floating base for commandos as they monitor coastal areas or prepare for amphibious operations.
U.S. Navy SEALs parachuted into Somalia under cover of darkness early Wednesday and crept up to an outdoor camp where an American woman and Danish man were being held hostage. Soon, nine kidnappers were dead and both hostages were freed. (Jan. 25)
The U.S. Special Operations Command has sought a transportable floating base for several years, saying that a mothership would expand the range of commando squads operating from small speedboats, particularly in remote coastal areas.
Defense officials said the Ponce will serve as a stopgap measure until the Navy can build a new Afloat Forward Staging Base from scratch. In budget documents released Thursday, the Pentagon said it would fund that project starting next year.
The floating base also could be suited to the coast of Somalia, a failed state that is home to an al-Qaeda affiliate and gangs of pirates. A mothership there would give SEALs or other commandos more flexibility in missions such as Wednesday’s rescue of a pair of American and Danish hostages who had been held for months by Somali pirates.
The term “mothership” is also commonly used to describe a vessel used by Somali pirates. After hijacking a large container or cargo vessel, pirate crews often turn it into a floating base to extend the range of their skiffs or speedboats far into the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and Persian Gulf.
U.S. military officials declined to say what prompted them to give the Ponce a sudden new lease on life. But contract and bidding documents underscore the urgency of the project.
One no-bid contract for engineering work states that the military was waiving normal procurement rules because any delay presented a “national security risk.” Other contract bids are due Feb. 3. The Navy wants the conversion work to begin 10 days later on the Ponce, which is docked in Virginia Beach.