A SERIES of naval exercises is taking place in the Middle East amidst escalating Iranian threats to disrupt shipping across critical choke points.
Four exercises, three of which already started, feature Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet assets along with regional and international naval forces.
The Bright Star Exercise and the Theatre Amphibious Combat Rehearsal (TACR) started on September 8, while the Mine Counter Measure Exercise (MCMEX) started the following day.
The MK-60 Griffin Missile Exercise will begin later this month, with all four drills ending this month, according to US Fifth Fleet spokeswoman Lieutenant Christina Gibson.
“US Fifth Fleet assets are currently leading the TACR 18 and MCMEX, and participating in Bright Star 18,” Lieutenant Gibson told the GDN yesterday.
“Later this month, coastal patrol ships attached to US Fifth Fleet’s Task Force 55 will conduct MK-60 Griffin surface-to-surface missile and naval gun exercises against high-speed manoeuvring targets.”
She explained that TACR was taking place near Djibouti and aimed to enhance readiness for littoral and mine countermeasures capabilities “to preserve freedom of movement” through the critical choke point of Bab Al Mandeb.
She added that guided-missile destroyer USS Carney and other special task forces were taking part in the exercise that tested “conventional and irregular warfare scenarios” near the Suez Canal.
“Five coastal patrol ships forward-deployed to Bahrain will conduct surface warfare training in the Arabian Gulf to enhance their ability to defend minesweepers and other coastal patrol ships by executing a MK-60 Griffin missile exercise and gunnery exercise,” said Lieutenant Gibson.
She also said that the US Fifth Fleet will be welcoming F-35B stealth fighter jets to take part in the exercise.
“The introduction of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft allows US Central Command to approach missions from a position of strength, providing air and maritime superiority to ensure security at sea and on land,” she added.
The combined exercises are taking place at a time when Iran has threatened to halt exports through the Strait of Hormuz, after US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreements and re-imposed economic sanctions on Tehran.
US Navy officials in Bahrain have in the past encountered Iranian naval interference targeting US vessels, with around 300 such incidents in 2016 alone.
It is rare to have so many naval exercises going on in the area simultaneously, however, Lieutenant Gibson said the combined exercises only aimed to test the navy’s readiness to ensure freedom of movement across key shipping lanes.
“While the (exercises) are not in response to any one threat or potential threat, they do prepare us and our partners to respond to any threat to freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce throughout the region and its three critical choke points,” she added.
Iran has been known to practise anti-access naval tactics as part of its military strategy, and in June Tehran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, where much of the world’s oil and natural gas transits.