An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22 flies above the amphibious transport dock ship USS Ponce (LPD 15). Ponce is part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group, supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Pittman/Released)
A new, key addition to American-led naval efforts to ensure Mideast oil keeps flowing has emerged as an unusual mix of a ship combining decades’ worth of wear and tear with state-of-the-art technology and a largely civilian crew.
After winning a reprieve from the scrapyard, the USS Ponce was reborn through a rush retrofit earlier this year and turned into a floating base prowling the waters of the Persian Gulf. It is now getting its biggest workout since refurbishment as the centerpiece for sweeping anti-mine naval exercises under way that serve as a very public warning to Iran. The Islamic Republic has threatened to shut the Gulf’s entrance at the Strait of Hormuz, the route for a fifth of the world’s oil supplies, and would likely use mines to do so.
Anti-mine divers on practice drills deployed in small boats off the Ponce’s stern gate early Saturday, and MH-53 minesweeping helicopters launched from the ship kicked up sea spray as they hauled mine-detecting equipment through the water. Later in the day, a U.S. destroyer pulled alongside, fighter jets roared past and gunners fired thunderous rounds from .50 caliber machine guns during a simulated encounter with a hostile vessel.
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