On Wednesday, the US Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet announced they plan to launch a new drone task force in the region. The unit consists of airborne, sailing, and underwater drones deployed after years of maritime attacks. Most traced back to ongoing tensions with Iran.
Government officials refused to identify the systems they would involve from their headquarters based on the island nation of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. They have confirmed that in the near future, the drones would extend their capabilities across a number of regional passageways. These chokepoints are crucial to worldwide shipping and global energy supplies.
The Mission Of The 5th Fleet
“We want to put more systems out in the maritime domain above, on, and below the sea… We want more eyes on what’s happening out there,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, leader of the 5th Fleet.
Particularly, the 5th Fleet protects the strategically critical Strait of Hormuz. The narrow strait lies between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Annually, 20% of all oil passes through the Straight.
The Fleet also patrols as far as the Red Sea reaches, near the Suez Canal, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen, and the waterway in Egypt linking the Mideast to the Mediterranean.
The 5th Fleet’s new Task Force 59 will include the systems involved in an April test led by the Navy’s Pacific Fleet. The technology used in that exercise included underwater drones that resemble torpedoes, ultra-endurance aerial surveillance drones, and the infamous Sea Hawk and the Sea Hunter.
The 5th Fleet is operating these drones in shallow areas, salty waters, and in conditions where temperatures can go above 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) with extreme humidity.
“I think that environment really suits us well to experiment and move faster… And our belief is if the new systems can work here, they can probably work anywhere else and can scale them across other fleets,” Cooper said.
THE RECENT RISE IN ATTACKS
In recent years, the region has seen a rise in oceanic attacks. Off the coast of Yemen, Houthi rebels have deployed explosive-laden drone boats and mines, damaging vessels during the country’s years-long war. Additionally, Iranian forces have seized oil tankers and other vessels near the United Arab Emirates and the Strait of Hormuz.
Questionable explosions have also struck numerous vessels in the region. These incidents have damaged tankers owned by Western firms and ships tied to Israel and Iran.
Consequently, those attacks have become part of a more obvious shadow war playing out across the region. After then-President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal, other world powers have had reason to get involved in the region. In a blatant attack designed to provoke the US, Iran shot down an American drone, increasing tensions between both sides.
“We’re very aware of Iran’s posture, and we’ll be prepared to deal with that appropriately… I’m going to leave it at that,” Vice-Admiral Cooper said.
A Mission To Serve Our Heroes
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