US Navy launches Mideast drone task force amid Iran tensions

08 Sep 2021

US Navy launches Mideast drone task force amid Iran tensions

By Jon Gambrell

September 8, 2021

https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-iran-dubai-united-arab-emirates-bahrain-fe5517a7979e037ae6e266b885cc7719

 

 

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The U.S. Navy's Mideast-based 5th Fleet said Wednesday it will launch a new task force that incorporates airborne, sailing and underwater drones after years of maritime attacks linked to ongoing tensions with Iran.

Navy officials declined to identify which systems they would introduce from their headquarters on the island nation of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf. However, they promised the coming months would see the drones stretch their capabilities across a region of chokepoints crucial to both global energy supplies and worldwide shipping.

“We want to put more systems out in the maritime domain above, on and below the sea,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who leads the 5th Fleet. “We want more eyes on what’s happening out 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 stretches as far as the Red Sea reaches near the Suez Canal, the waterway in Egypt linking the Mideast to the Mediterranean, and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen.

The systems being used by the 5th Fleet's new Task Force 59 will include some of those involved in an April test led by the Navy's Pacific Fleet. Drones used in that exercise included ultra-endurance aerial surveillance drones, surface ships the Sea Hawk and the Sea Hunter and smaller underwater drones that resemble torpedoes.

The 5th Fleet includes shallow water areas, salty waters and temperatures in the summertime that can go above 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) with high humidity. That can prove rough for crewed vessels, let alone those running remotely.

“I think that environment really suits us well to experiment and move faster," Cooper said. "And our belief is if the new systems can work here, they can probably work anywhere else and can scale them across other fleets.”

It also represents a region that has seen a series of at-sea attacks in recent years. Off Yemen, bomb-laden drone boats and mines set adrift by Yemen's Houthi rebels have damaged vessels amid that country's yearslong war. Near the United Arab Emirates and the Strait of Hormuz, oil tankers have been seized by Iranian forces.