It may have been 35 years since the Falklands War, but the British are still very touchy about Argentina buying high-tech weaponry.
Among them might be a very old amphibious assault ship.
According to a report by the London Daily Mail, Argentina has asked the US about buying the Austin-class amphibious platform dock USS Ponce (AFSB(I) 15, ex-LPD 15). The Ponce has been serving as a floating staging base in the Persian Gulf, and is slated to be replaced by the expeditionary support base USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3).
Austin-class amphibious transport docks are old. The Ponce, the youngest ship in the class, was commissioned in 1971.
Still, they remain very capable vessels. According to a Navy fact sheet, they can carry up to 900 troops, two air-cushion landing craft, or a single landing craft utility. The vessels can also carry a half-dozen helicopters.
With this sort of capability, some retired Royal Navy officers are concerned. Among them is retired Adm. Lord West.
“Such a ship is an offensive weapon and could play a significant role as part of an invading force. It is more unfortunate that this is happening as we are about to lose HMS Ocean from service without a direct replacement,” he told the Daily Mail, referring to the amphibious assault ship capable of holding 18 helicopters, including Apache attack helicopters and Merlin, Sea King, and Lynx transport helicopters.
The Argentineans reportedly tried to close the deal with the U.S. while Vice President Mike Pence was visiting the South American country. While the deal has not gone through yet, the implications for the United Kingdom are significant.
“The British would have to increase their protection of the Falklands in light of Argentina acquiring an amphibious assault ship,” John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org told the Daily Mail.