Exercise Eager Lion aims to practice maritime defense of Port of Aqaba


The drills, set to take place in Jordan next month, will practice protecting the Port of Aqaba from speed boat attacks, drones, ballistic missiles and improvised explosive devices.

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A general view shows the Red Sea Jordanian city of Aqaba at sunset on September 24, 2018. [Thomas Coex/AFP]
A general view shows the Red Sea Jordanian city of Aqaba at sunset on September 24, 2018. [Thomas Coex/AFP]

A key component of Exercise Eager Lion, one of the largest military exercises in the US Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, involves drills to protect Jordan's key Port of Aqaba.

The multilateral training exercise, which is scheduled to take place in Jordan May 12-23, has been described by CENTCOM as the capstone event of the US military's relationship with the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF).

Held since 2011, past iterations of the Eager Lion exercise have included maritime and border security drills, as well as counterterrorism training, air and missile defense coordination, disaster response and humanitarian aid, according to CENTCOM.

Traditionally, the United States has also sent a sizable naval presence to the event in support of maritime security.

Guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze pulls into the Port of Aqaba, Jordan, September 23, 2022. [US Navy]
Guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze pulls into the Port of Aqaba, Jordan, September 23, 2022. [US Navy]

This year's exercise will continue to practice protecting the Port of Aqaba -- one of Jordan's national treasures and a key port for the Arabian Peninsula -- from speed boat attacks, drones, ballistic missiles, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) using special operations and conventional forces together.

The United States is a committed partner in supporting and protecting the port, which is located on the Gulf of Aqaba and connects to the Red Sea.

Aqaba has been a major port since the Iron Age and is the second-busiest facility on the Red Sea by container cargo volume. It serves as a logistics hub and a crucial transit point for Jordan and other countries in the region.

As Jordan's only port, it is equipped with 12 terminals that can handle 23 ships of various sizes and models, in addition to eight ships in anchorage.

Western Access Network

The port also serves as part of the Western Access Network -- Red Sea ports in Jordan and Saudi Arabia that could provide alternate routes to transport equipment and personnel throughout the region if the Strait of Hormuz is blocked.

Over the years, Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most strategically significant naval choke points.

From the Port of Aqaba, equipment and personnel could move via the Trans Arabian Network, the interconnection of important seaports, airports and road networks within the Arabian Peninsula, to reach the Gulf states from the west.

These options allow the free flow of goods in peacetime and military equipment in wartime through the Arabian Peninsula.

"In times of conflict and concern in the Persian Gulf, we may not be able to get the supplies that the nations need up through the Strait of Hormuz. So we need to have other options," Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, commander of US Transportation Command, said in a briefing in 2023.

"So [the Western Access Network] is something that we're working on very hard with Central Command and the entire region," Ovost said.

"And we have just been so fortunate to have an open door with our allies and partners that allow us such great access so that we can meet everyone's needs."

Maritime defense

Despite being mostly landlocked, Jordan is focused on ensuring a secure and thriving maritime environment.

Jordan has 26 km (16 miles) of shoreline along the Gulf of Aqaba, providing access to the Red Sea.

The nation is working to manage and secure maritime activities with cutting-edge technologies, robust surveillance, data fusion and a skilled workforce, along with effective response to threats and the sustainable management of maritime resources.

Headquartered and garrisoned at the Port of Aqaba, the Royal Jordanian Navy has 27 patrol boats and more than 700 personnel. The Royal Jordanian Navy is under the command of the Army to ensure unity of effort.

The Royal Jordanian Navy cooperates with other nations in the region and international partners as part of Combined Task Force (CTF) 152.

CTF 152 is one of the five task forces of Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), a multinational maritime coalition that works to counter illicit non-state actors and promote security, stability and prosperity across approximately 3.2 million square miles (8.3 million square kilometers) of international waters.

CTF 152 operates inside the Arabian Gulf, where it focuses on illicit non-state actors.

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There is no good in exercises conducted under the auspices of the enemy's sponsor. It won't prevent attacks on Israel in any way, which means that the exercises are directed at Arabs.