U.S. Navy, D.M. Young
The Interim Afloat Forward Staging Base Ponce (AFSB(I) 15) was officially retired from the U.S. Navy on 14 October after 46 years of service. The 16,000-ton, 569-foot Ponce entered service in 1971 and was designated LPD-15 for her first 40 years, serving as the youngest of 12 Austin-class amphibious transport docks. She took part in numerous humanitarian and disaster relief deployments and helped transport forces during operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Initially slated for decommissioning in 2011, plans were instead announced to rapidly convert the Ponce as an afloat forward staging base for mine countermeasures, coastal patrol, and small-boat operations in the Persian Gulf region. Conversion from LPD to AFSB kicked off in February 2012 and by July 2012 she was already on scene in Bahrain with the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. She remained on-station until relieved by the newly commissioned and purpose-built expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3).
The Albanian Navy completed its first NATO deployment in November, as the patrol craft ALS Oriku concluded a year-long assignment with Standing NATO Maritime Group 2. The Oriku, a 205-ton, 140-foot offshore patrol craft was built to the Dutch Stan Patrol 4207 design and joined the NATO group known as SNMG2 in November 2016. She patrolled along with vessels from Germany, Greece, Netherlands, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, helping monitor waters of the Aegean Sea to reduce illegal human trafficking and migration in the region. In addition to work with local navies and coast guards, members of the SNMG2 operated in close cooperation with the newly formed European Border and Coast Guard Agency, which has inherited the nickname “Frontex.” This new EU organization celebrated its own first full year of operations late in 2017, having been launched on 6 October 2016 to help address EU migration challenges and internal security issues.
The Argentinian TR-1700 class submarine San Juan was lost at sea with all hands on November 15. An international coalition of ships, aircraft, and personnel quickly formed to search for the stricken submarine, although authorities acknowledge the 44-person crew has likely perished. The 215-foot San Juan was built in Germany and entered service in 1985. She was the newest of Argentina’s three submarines. Displacing 2,100 tons surfaced and 2,350 tons submerged, the attack submarine could be armed with up to 22 torpedoes, although none were reportedly aboard when she went missing. By 2014 she had concluded a lengthy refit in Argentina that included installation of a new diesel propulsion system. One of her last reports indicated that water had entered her battery compartment, causing a short circuit while operating off the Argentine coast. Several hours after losing contact, a hydro-acoustic anomaly was detected that experts considered to be consistent with an underwater explosion. At press time the search for causes, and for the missing submarine itself, continues.
Mr. Wertheim, a defense consultant in the Washington, DC area, is the author of the 16th edition of The Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, available from the Naval Institute Press (see www.usni.org).