US Navy launches Middle East drone task force amid Iran tensions

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet based in the Middle East will launch a new task force that integrates aerial, sail and submarine drones after years of maritime attacks linked to continuing tensions with Iran.

Navy officials have not identified the systems they will introduce from their headquarters in the island nation of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, but have promised the coming months will see drones expand their capabilities across a region. critical bottlenecks for the global and global energy supply. shipping.

“We want to put more systems in the maritime domain above, over and below the sea,” said Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, who heads the 5th Fleet.

An ADARO unmanned drone drives past the USS Oakland (US Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex Perlman, via AP)

“We want more eyes on what’s going on there.”

The 5th Fleet includes the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all oil passes. It also extends to the Red Sea, near the Suez Canal, the Egyptian waterway connecting the Middle East to the Mediterranean and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen.

The systems used by the new 5th Fleet Task Force 59 will include some of those involved in an April test led by the Navy’s Pacific Fleet.

The drones used in this exercise included ultra-endurance aerial surveillance drones, Sea Hawk and Sea Hunter surface ships, and smaller underwater drones that resemble torpedoes.

The 5th Fleet includes areas of shallow water, salt water, and summer temperatures that can exceed 45 ° C (113 ° F) with high humidity.

US Navy sailors prepare CARINA unmanned underwater drone
US Navy sailors prepare a CARINA unmanned underwater drone (US Navy / Lt Cmdr Tony Wright, via AP)

“I think this environment is really good for us to experiment and go faster,” said Vice Admiral Cooper.

“And our belief is that if the new systems can work here, they can probably work anywhere else and can adapt them to other fleets.”

It also represents a region that has seen a series of attacks at sea in recent years.

Off Yemen, bomb-laden drones and landmines adrifted by Yemen’s Houthi rebels have damaged ships amid the country’s years-long war. Near the United Arab Emirates and the Strait of Hormuz, tankers have been seized by Iranian forces.

Suspicious explosions have also hit ships in the region, ranging from tankers owned by Western companies to ships linked to Israel and Iranian ships.

These attacks are now part of a larger shadow war unfolding in the region following former US President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal with world powers.

While US President Joe Biden has said he is ready to re-enter the deal, negotiations in Vienna have stalled as Iran now has a new, hard-core president.

This leaves open the possibility of further attacks by Iran – as well as by Israel, which has been suspected of incidents targeting Iranian shipping and its nuclear program.

Vice Admiral Cooper acknowledged the tensions in his remarks to reporters on Wednesday, but declined to go into details.

“We are very aware of Iran’s position and we will be ready to deal with it appropriately,” he said.

“I’ll stop there.”

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