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Ponce (LPD 15)

A city in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, named after the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, the European discoverer of Florida, and the first governor of Puerto Rico.

(LPD 15: displacement 16,914; length 569'; beam 105'; draft 22'; speed 20 knots; complement 420; capacity 917; armament 8 3-inch; class Austin)

Ponce (LPD 15) was laid down on 31 October 1966 at Seattle, Wash., by Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Co.; launched on 20 May 1970; sponsored by Mrs. John J. Hyland, Jr.; and commissioned on 10 July 1971, Capt. George W. Farris in command.

Ship's seal The ship’s insignia consists of four major elements: a rampant lion signifying the high spiritedness of the Navy-Marine Corps team that serves in her; a trident, emblematic of U.S. naval power and supremacy; an anchor chain, linking the ship’s name and her designator symbols; and the total purple lion, which is the coat of arms of Juan Ponce de Leon, a continuing reminder of the ship’s bond with the people of her namesake city.

Ponce collided with dock landing ship Fort Snelling (LSD 30) during a towing exercise while en route to Portsmouth, England (2 February 1982). The impact caused minor damage to Ponce’s port side, mainly to the accommodation ladder and flight deck catwalk. Following her British visit, the ship completed her scheduled exercises with marines in Norwegian waters.

The ship lost her stern gate during heavy seas while she attempted to move an assault craft to Radio Island, near Morehead City, N.C. (14 February 1984). Ponce received the stern gate from command ship Coronado (AGF 11) while completing repairs at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, Pa.

Ponce took part with amphibious assault ship Saipan (LHA 2), tank landing ship Sumter (LST 1181), and destroyer Peterson (DD 969) in Operation Sharp Edge—the evacuation of people caught in the civil war in Liberia (5 August 1990). Ponce inserted a reinforced marine rifle company from the 22d Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) into the U.S. Embassy compound in Monrovia for increased security. She transported 1,111 of the 1,648 people evacuated during this initial phase of the operation (through 19 August) to Freetown, Sierra Leone. The opposing Liberian factions subsequently (28 November) signed a cease-fire, and two days later the evacuations ended, following the American evacuation of a total of 2,609 people including 330 U.S. citizens. Sharp Edge concluded on 9 January 1991.

U.S. Navy Photograph 090627-N-5345W-031
Ponce steams across the Red Sea, 27 June 2009. (U.S. Navy Photograph 090627-N-5345W-031, by Mass Communication Specialist 2d Class Kristopher Wilson, Naval Sea Systems Command)
U.S. Navy Photograph 120730-N-PO203-076
The Laser Weapon System temporarily installed on board Dewey at San Diego, Calif., 30 July 2012. (U.S. Navy Photograph 120730-N-PO203-076 by John F. Williams, Naval Sea Systems Command)

She assisted victims of Hurricane Andrew in Florida (29 August–18 September 1992), and then conducted counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean (7–10 and 13–15 October, and 17 October–2 November). Ponce transported marines as part of Amphibious Task Force East during Operation Iraqi Freedom I (11 January–30 June 2003).

The ship was reclassified as an Afloat Forward Staging Base, Interim (AFSB(I), for Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragon mine countermeasures helicopters, and patrol and small mine-clearance vessels, on 31 March 2012.

On 8 April 2013, the Navy announced that the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) will be installed on board Ponce for an at-sea demonstration in 2014. Temporarily installed on board guided missile destroyer Dewey (DDG 105), the LaWS is a technology demonstrator built by the Naval Sea Systems Command from commercial fiber solid state lasers, utilizing combination methods developed at the Naval Research Laboratory (ONR). LaWS can be directed onto targets from the radar track obtained from a Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon system or other targeting source. This capability provides Navy ships a method for sailors to defeat small boat threats and aerial targets without using bullets.

Ponce operates out of Norfolk, Va.

Detailed history under construction.

Last Reviewed: 12/4/2013
Mark L. Evans