The U.S. Navy’s Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group (CSG) transited through the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday, entering the Persian Gulf following months of Iranian attacks in the area. The high-profile transit underscores Washington’s commitment to regional security, to freedom of navigation, and to deterring acts of Iranian belligerence.
The Trump administration dispatched the carrier strike group to the region in May in support of the U.S. 5th Fleet, responding to what then-National Security Advisor John Bolton called “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from the regime in Iran.
The 5th Fleet is responsible for a 2.5 million-square mile swath of water that includes the Persian Gulf, the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz, and parts of the Indian Ocean. The Strait of Hormuz represents a key maritime chokepoint, with nearly a fifth of the world’s oil moving through it on the way to global markets.
Yesterday’s transit augments American firepower in the Persian Gulf. In addition to the USS Abraham Lincoln, the carrier strike group includes components of Destroyer Squadron 2, the USS Leyte Gulf, Carrier Air Wing 7, and Carrier Strike Group 12. The added forces addressed concerns expressed in March by then-U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. Joseph Votel, who said that the U.S. had an insufficient carrier presence in the region.
Before entering the strait on Tuesday, the carrier strike group had operated in the North Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman, east of the strait. The USS Lincoln is expected to be relieved by the USS Harry S. Truman, the deployment of which has been delayed owing to repairs.
At the 2019 CENTCOM posture hearing, Gen. Votel testified that “Iran’s unpredictable and reckless behavior remains a threat to our partners, global commerce, and U.S. vital interests in the Middle East.”
The U.S. intelligence community’s 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment observed that “Iran continues to develop, improve, and field a range of military capabilities that enable it to target US and allied military assets in the region and disrupt traffic through the Strait of Hormuz.” Tehran’s capabilities for menacing global shipping include naval mines, unmanned explosive boats, anti-ship missiles, armed unmanned aerial vehicles, and submarines.
The past year alone is replete with acts of Iranian aggression. In May, Iran launched attacks against several nations’ oil shipping vessels lawfully transiting near the Strait of Hormuz. In June, Iran shot down a U.S. Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system operating in international airspace. Then, in September, Iran launched a swarm of drones and cruise missiles against a Saudi oil facility in Abqaiq, temporarily taking offline five percent of global oil supplies.
A report released by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) this week notes that Iran “seeks to prevent an adversary from entering or operating in areas that it considers essential,” primarily by strengthening its “position along the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.” The DIA report confirms Iran uses “its naval forces to demonstrate resolve and threaten freedom of navigation.”
The leaders in Tehran are not impressed with diplomatic pronouncements alone. The deployment of the Lincoln CSG helps empower diplomacy, backing words with action.
Bradley Bowman is senior director for the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where Andrew Gabel and Mikhael Smits are research analysts. Follow them on Twitter at @Brad_L_Bowman, @Andrew_B_Gabel and @MikhaelSmits. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.