Flashpoints

This is how the US military is protecting the Strait of Hormuz.

Iranian small boat threats, limpet mines and Tehran-backed forces armed with cruise and anti-ship killing missiles are just a few of the threats to the shipping channel in the Persian Gulf that supplies nearly one-fifth of the world’s global crude oil.

To bolster the security of US warships at sea operating in tight waterways around the Middle East, the U.S. conducted an exercise in December using Griffin missiles fired from the U.S. Cyclone-class ship Hurricane.

The exercise, which was conducted in the Arabian Gulf, showcased how U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships can counter small boat threats in the region. The Griffin missile, developed by Ratheyon, is an air and ground launched missile.

The Navy uses a version of the Griffin known as the Mk-60 Patrol Coastal Griffin Missile System installed on cyclone class patrol coastal ships.

Military Times reached out to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command regarding the Griffin test and have yet to receive a response.

Griffins are also used with the Marine Corps’ KC-130 Harvest Hawk system, which turns the Marine tanker into a gunship capable of providing air support.

The exercise highlighted another means in which the U.S. is rapidly reacting to the dynamic threats in the Middle East by finding new ways to utilize various weapon systems to bolster security for ships in operating in choke points threatened by Iran and its web of militias and proxy forces.

Other security measures taken on board U.S. warships during choke point transits have included the use of Marine light armored vehicles armed with the 25 mm bushmaster chain gun parked on the flight deck.

Marines toting anti-tank Javelin missile systems have also manned the rails to help spot and counter potential small boat threats during transits of the Strait of Hormuz and other choke points.

And in 2019, the 22nd and 11th Marine Expeditionary Units strapped a Polaris MRZR system armed with an electronic jammer when they navigated tight waterways in the U.S. Central Command area of operations.

The system, known as the Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System, or LMADIS, downed an Iranian drone in July near the Strait of Hormz, according to U.S. defense officials. The LMADIS was parked on the deck of Wasp-class amphibious assault ship Boxer as it prepared to transit the strait.

Iran is believed to be behind a number of attacks over the summer on commercial ships operating in tight waterways in the Middle East.

U.S. officials have also blamed Iran for an attack on two Saudi Arabian oil fields in September that briefly cut the country’s oil production nearly in half. Cruise missiles and drones bearing Iran’s signature are believed to have been used in the strikes, according to a State Department brief obtained by Military Times.

In response to Iran’s malign behavior, the Pentagon has deployed an additional 14,000 US troops over the past six months to the Middle East, to include fighter aircraft, Patriot missile systems. Those additional forces have also beefed up manpower on U.S. warships in the region.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has said the Pentagon may deploy more troops in the region to confront Iran.

To protect and increase surveillance of the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait the U.S. has also cobbled together an international maritime security ring — that now includes seven nations — dubbed Operation Sentinel.

A spokesperson with Operation Sentinel told Military Times that the operation “is a maritime security framework with mission layers called Sentinel, Sentry, and airborne surveillance or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).”

“In Sentinel operations, large naval ships provide over watch of critical choke points through coordination with other military and civilian shipping, as well as by observing patterns of life through surveillance,” the spokesperson explained.

“In Sentry operations, smaller ships patrol and provide a persistent maritime presence between Sentinel ships,” the spokesperson said.

Airborne surveillance also keeps watch over the tight channels.

The mission does not include visit, board, search and seizures of vessels, the spokesperson explained, but since the maritime security mission became operational “unsafe activity directed against commercial shipping stopped currently.”

“This maritime security framework enables nations to provide escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the cooperation of participating nations for coordination and enhanced maritime domain awareness and surveillance,” the spokesperson said.

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