The Pentagon is set to launch a floating naval base in the Middle East, a move which would make the military more flexible but could cause friction with America’s friends and foes alike.
The vessel, which has unofficially been called the ‘mothership’, is set to be converted from an out-of-date warship, and could be ready for deployment by this summer.
Its probable destination is the Persian Gulf, where tensions have been rising between the U.S. and Iran.
The USS Ponce, a 40-year-old ship which was due to be decommissioned at the end of this year, will instead be turned in to a mobile base for smaller vessels.
These vessels will be used by Navy SEALs to help them on missions such as the rescue of an American woman and a Danish man from Somali pirates this week.
Ironically, the use of a floating base would mimic the practice of East African pirates, who often use ships they have hijacked as a base for their own skiffs.
The plan to use the Ponce as a ‘mothership’ was first reported by the Washington Post after the military published a document calling for private firms to bid to remodel the ship to turn it in to in a permanent presence.
As well as a base on the shore of Bahrain, the Persian Gulf currently hosts a U.S. aircraft carrier and several warships which are used to deploy smaller ships.
However, these ships must move around the waters regularly, while a ‘mothership’ can remain in the same place for weeks.
Although the Pentagon has not confirmed where the ‘mothership’ would be based, another document has specified that the ship must be delivered to the Persian Gulf.
The Gulf has become a major flashpoint in recent weeks after Iran threatened to shut it off to U.S. vessels in response to the latest round of sanctions designed to target the country’s nuclear programme.
Top Iranian officials have warned that closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz would be ‘easier than drinking a glass of water’.
The establishment of a new permanent base in international waters would doubtless strain relations further – and could also intimidate American allies such as Saudi Arabia.
A Pentagon official told Fox News that the military was concerned about the possibility of mines being placed in the Strait of Hormuz or elsewhere in the Gulf, and a tender document specified that the ‘mothership’ should have anti-ballistic capabilities.
However, despite the dangers, there would be significant upsides for the U.S. having a base which is not located in any one country, as they would no longer be dependent on the hospitality of an autocratic Middle Eastern regime.
Work on converting the Ponce could begin within three weeks, according to military documents.