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The US Navy's turning to its third carrier strike group as its warships react to Middle East conflicts with no end in sight

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and other warships cross the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf on Nov. 26, 2023 as part of a wider American deployment in the Middle East amid the Israel-Hamas war.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and other warships cross the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf on Nov. 26, 2023 as part of a wider American deployment in the Middle East amid the Israel-Hamas war.
  • Another US Navy carrier strike group is headed to the Middle East.
  • The USS Theodore Roosevelt and its escort warships will take over counter-Houthi operations.
  • It will be the Pentagon's third strike group to enter the region since the fall. 

Two US Navy carrier strike groups have come and gone as conflicts in the Middle East — from Gaza to the Red Sea — continue with no immediate end in sight. A third carrier strike group is working its way toward the region.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group is currently in South Korea, but it will soon depart for the US Central Command area of responsibility. Its arrival will make it the third CSG to enter the Middle East's turbulent waters over the past nine months.

Beyond Israel's war in Gaza and Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, there are growing concerns over the possibility of more violence in Israel and Lebanon as tensions flare.

Ford strike group

Hamas' Oct. 7 massacre in southern Israel, followed by the latter's retaliatory war in Gaza, triggered an outburst of violence across the Middle East and quickly prompted the US to move additional military assets — like aircraft and warships — into the region.

In a move aimed at preventing the conflict from widening and signaling its support to Israel, the Pentagon directed the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The USS Gerald R. Ford refuels from the underway replenishment oiler USNS Laramie in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on Oct. 11, 2023.
The USS Gerald R. Ford refuels from the underway replenishment oiler USNS Laramie in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea on Oct. 11, 2023.

A carrier strike group is a naval formation that includes a carrier, its air wing, and several other warships such as cruisers and destroyers. It's a very flexible — and powerful — show of force with a tremendous capacity for both defense and offense.

Alongside the carrier Ford, the other ships in the group included the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Normandy and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney, and USS Roosevelt.

The Ford carrier strike group was already several months into its first full deployment when it made the pivot, but it had its time at sea extended nearly 80 days before returning to the US in January. In the meantime, other Iran-backed actors across the region stepped up their attacks on Israel, the US military, and civilian mariners, causing new problems.

USS Carney was the first American warship to engage Houthi attacks in October, and it later, alongside another warship, helped shoot down ballistic missiles during Iran's unprecedented mid-April attack on Israel.

Eisenhower strike group

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group first deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean in October, bringing in more firepower alongside the Ford. The flagship carrier then moved into the Persian Gulf, sending a deterrence message to Iran as other CSG elements responded to the Iran-backed Houthis as they started attacking commercial vessels in what the rebels characterized as a response to the Israel-Hamas war. As this fight ramped up, the Eisenhower would sail back into the Red Sea.

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower sails in the Red Sea on June 12.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower sails in the Red Sea on June 12.

The strike group was tasked with defending shipping lanes in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden from the unrelenting Houthi attacks, intercepting scores of missiles and drones in a high-tempo operating environment.

The strike group also targeted the Houthis directly in Yemen, hitting rebel facilities, weapons, launchers, and other assets that support their campaign. The vast majority of these airstrikes were carried out unilaterally, though several rounds were conducted alongside British military forces.

Alongside the carrier Ike, the strike group consisted of the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and guided-missile destroyers USS Mason and USS Gravely.

After a seven-month-long run in the Middle East, which included two deployment extensions and a resupply and rearmament, the Eisenhower strike group finally departed the Red Sea this past weekend. The group is operating in the Eastern Mediterranean before heading back to the US.

Roosevelt strike group

Slated to replace the Eisenhower is the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group.

The Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt anchored in Busan, South Korea on June 22, 2024.

The Roosevelt strike group is set to depart the Indo-Pacific region in the coming days, upon completion of a scheduled exercise, and sail to the Middle East.

There, the strike group "will continue to promote regional stability, deter aggression, and protect the free flow of commerce in the region," Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon spokesperson, said this week.

With the Eisenhower strike group back in the Mediterranean and the Roosevelt still in the Indo-Pacific, the US is left without an aircraft carrier in the Middle East region for the first time in a while.

It's a development that is taking shape amid a particularly active stretch for the Houthis, who have struck multiple commercial vessels this month alone, including one with an explosive-laden drone boat for the first time since they started attacking ships in the fall.

However, Ryder said the US still has "capability in the region" to counter the rebels, including destroyers in the US Central Command and European Command areas of responsibility that are equipped for intercepting enemy threats.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely in the Red Sea on June 7.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely in the Red Sea on June 7.

These warships, the destroyers in particular, "have been very active in providing those kinds of defenses, as well as other capabilities to include aircraft and ISR capabilities," he said, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

The movement of American forces in the region comes amid heightened fears that Israel and Hezbollah could clash in an all-out war that officials warn could be highly devastating for civilians. The two sides have exchanged tit-for-tat strikes since Oct. 7, but recent weeks have seen increasingly escalatory rhetoric between them. The US and others have urged restraint.

As for the other crises, the incoming Roosevelt carrier strike group has its work cut out for it. Houthi attacks show no signs of slowing down, and the cost of the US naval presence continues to rise.

By late May, the Eisenhower carrier strike group had already fired off more than 500 munitions, amounting to some $1 billion in spent weaponry and raising questions about the long-term sustainability of the mission.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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