U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Monday ordered F-35 and F-16 fighter jets to the Middle East.
The USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116) will join the deployment, which is meant as a deterrent to Iran’s activities in the region.
“In response to a number of recent alarming events in the Strait of Hormuz, the Secretary of Defense has ordered the deployment of the destroyer USS Thomas Hudner, F-35 fighters and F-16 fighters to the US Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility to defend US interests and safeguard freedom of navigation in the region,” Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Monday.
Earlier this month, Iranian forces tried to seize two commercial oil tankers. On July 5, an Iranian vessel approached the Richmond Voyager and opened fire on the tanker, hitting the ship near the crew’s living quarters. The Iranians only broke off their assault when the USS McFaul (DDG-74) arrived on the scene.
“In light of this continuing threat, and in coordination with our partners and allies, the department is increasing our presence and ability to monitor the straight and surrounding waters,” Singh said. “We call upon Iran to immediately cease these destabilizing actions that threaten the free flow of commerce through this strategic waterway of which the world depends on for more than one fifth of the world’s oil supply.”
The Strait of Hormuz remains a critical chokepoint between Iran and Oman. The Islamic Republic has harassed, attacked, or seized nearly 20 internationally flagged merchant vessels in the past year.
F-35s and More CENTCOM Is Ready
To deter Iran, the U.S. military has already deployed A-10 ground attack aircraft, along with a number of F-16 Fighting Falcons, to patrol the skies in the area. In addition, P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft are already conducting reconnaissance flights over neutral waters.
The A-10s are well suited to uncontested skies, and they were sent to the Gulf region in March. The U.S. has continued to bolster its forces in the Middle East in response to Iran’s provocations. However, Tehran does have a number of fighter aircraft in its arsenal. Notably, its air force flies American-made F-4 Phantoms dating back to the pre-Islamic Republic era. Iran also positions surface-to-air missiles near the coast that can reach the Strait of Hormuz.
As Air and Space Magazine reported, Iran downed a U.S. RQ-4 drone in the region in 2019.
Deterrent to Russia
Iran is not the only threat that the CENTCOM now faces. Russian aircraft have harassed American MQ-9 Reaper drones, and there have been a number of close calls with American fighters over Syria. As a result, a number of F-22 Raptors were rushed to the region last month, but U.S. officials have announced these aircraft are preparing to depart.
CENTCOM’s area of responsibility encompasses several million square miles of land across 21 countries in the Middle East and Central and South Asia.
The F-35s and additional F-16s could help the U.S. maintain control of airspace in the region, while another guided-missile destroyer could help convince the Islamic Republic not to further harass vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.