US poised to deploy key wartime assets to Middle East after Iran attacks


The US military, with its unmatched manpower, firepower and intelligence capabilities, is ready to respond at a moment's notice to Iran's increasing provocations in international waters.

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An L3Harris Arabian Fox MAST-13 unmanned surface vessel sails ahead of the guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton and the US Coast Guard fast response cutter USCGC Clarence Sutphin Jr. during a transit of the Strait of Hormuz, May 23. [US Coast Guard]
An L3Harris Arabian Fox MAST-13 unmanned surface vessel sails ahead of the guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton and the US Coast Guard fast response cutter USCGC Clarence Sutphin Jr. during a transit of the Strait of Hormuz, May 23. [US Coast Guard]

The US military remains ready to respond to any threat to international security in the Middle East, particularly as Iran continues to carry out aggressive, adversarial and deliberately provocative actions in international waters.

The US Navy responded to Iranian threats on Wednesday (July 5), blocking two attempts by the Iranian navy to seize commercial tankers in international waters off Oman, including one case in which the Iranians fired shots.

In both cases, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said the Iranians departed after a US destroyer appeared on the scene.

On Thursday, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) seized a commercial ship in the Gulf, the US Navy said.

A-10 Thunderbolts refuel with a KC-10 tanker above the Middle East. [CENTCOM]
A-10 Thunderbolts refuel with a KC-10 tanker above the Middle East. [CENTCOM]

"The IRGC forcibly seized a commercial vessel possibly engaged in smuggling activity," the Bahrain-based US Navy's 5th Fleet said in a statement.

US forces monitored the incident in international waters, it added, but "assessed the circumstances of this event did not warrant further response".

"US forces remain vigilant and ready to protect navigational rights of lawful maritime traffic in the Middle East's critical waters," it said.

On May 3, a fleet of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) craft surrounded and seized the Panama-flagged, Greek-owned Niovi as it travelled from Dubai to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The vessel's seizure in the Strait of Hormuz came six days after a similar incident in Gulf waters, when helicopter-borne Iranian navy commandos abseiled onto the deck of a US-bound Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, Advantage Sweet.

On May 12, Iranian state media announced that Iran had seized a third tanker, the Panama-flagged Purity.

Proactive partnerships

Following the uptick in Iranian merchant vessel seizures, the US military in May increased the rotation of ships and aircraft patrolling the Strait of Hormuz.

Military assets already in place, including aircraft and ships, will be used for "increased rotational patrols to enhance our presence specifically in and around the Strait of Hormuz", 5th Fleet spokesman Tim Hawkins said.

The increased surveillance is conducted through the 11-nation International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) and the eight-nation European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASoH).

IMSC members include Albania, Bahrain, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, the UAE, the United Kingdom and the United States, while EMASoH currently comprises Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Norway.

Other coalitions include Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) and its Combined Task Force (CTF) 152, which is currently commanded by the Royal Bahrain Naval Force.

Command of CTF 152 rotates among participating nations, with Kuwait, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia previously heading the force.

A variety of other countries assign vessels, aircraft and personnel to the task force, including Qatar, the United Kingdom and Australia.

In response to heightened concerns about international shipping, the United States has prepared a fleet of 100 unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) that reportedly will be ready to operate within a few months.

With unmatched manpower, firepower and intelligence capabilities, the US military is the preferred partner in the region, officials and analysts say.

There are some "30,000 to 40,000 US troops in the region, dozens of bases, including several large military facilities, pre-positioned stocks, and security force assistance is extensive in the region", said Jennifer Kavanagh, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Voice of America (VOA) reported May 18.

"The biggest enduring US military advantage in the Middle East involves its ability to obtain access, basing and overflight," Nathan P. Olsen, a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force, wrote May 14 in an analysis for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

One way the United States advances its security partnerships in the region is through large-scale exercises and training programmes.

"Prime examples are the US-led International Maritime Exercise 2022 and Cutlass Express 2022, which together included warships from 60 regional navies," Olsen said.

Last year alone the US military carried out 70 naval exercises in the Middle East.

"The relationships built through regional military activities provide the United States with an unmatched ability to obtain rapid access and overflight authorisations," Olsen said.

Air superiority

Another core advantage is the US military's ability to maintain air superiority in the region using advanced combat aircraft, weapons systems and ground-based air defences.

The A-10 Thunderbolt II ("Warthog") aircraft provides the US military and its allies a versatile and powerful tactical weapon that can be used in a wide range of battlefield circumstances, and has proven to be lethal against an array of targets, including tanks and surface ships.

Analysts say the A-10s would be particularly devastating against fast attack boats, such as the ones used by the IRGC near the Strait of Hormuz.

In March, the first A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft arrived at al-Dhafra air base in the UAE.

Meanwhile, the B-1B Lancer can travel at almost 1,500km per hour and carry more than 34 tonnes of payload.

The B-1's design and sensors allow it to carry out surprise attacks on enemy targets deep inside hostile territory, and its speed enables it to outrun fighter jets and escape unharmed.

The jet holds almost 50 world records for speed, payload, range and time of climb in its class, according to the US Air Force.

On June 8, two B-1Bs travelled across the Middle East, joining allied air force partner nations in a historic Bomber Task Force (BTF) mission.

It was the first time the US Air Force flew multiple weapons types and carried out strikes against multiple simulated targets during a single BTF mission.

The US military regularly demonstrates it is prepared to support key partners in the Middle East with strategic bombers that can be put into the air on a moment's notice.

Those include the B-52 Stratofortress, a long-range, heavy bomber that can perform a variety of missions, including strategic attack, close-air support, air interdiction, offensive counter-air and maritime operations.

Critical support

The George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group and US Navy's Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarines have also provided critical support in the region.

The carrier group includes the USS George H.W. Bush, the most modern Nimitz-class super carrier of the US Navy, guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, and two to three Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 26.

It includes the most robust air wing in the US Navy, complete with F/A-18E/F fighter jets, electronic attack aircraft and attack helicopters.

Alongside the US Air Force, the carrier group brings unparalleled refuelling capabilities for its aircraft and those of allies, enabling them to fly great distances beyond their given fuel range.

Last year, for the first time, an Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine docked at the remote island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean as part of an extended months-long deployment, US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) announced in a December 7 statement.

The USS West Virginia made the port visit October 25-31, the statement said.

The US Navy's Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarines are among the most powerful submarines in the world, and recently have been increasing their presence in the Indian Ocean, demonstrating their readiness to strike if called upon.

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