(Photo credit: AP)
On 21 February the US Navy announced the launch of a new cooperative fleet of airborne, sailing and underwater drones in West Asia to patrol large swathes of the region’s waterways.
Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of the 5th Fleet, made the announcement saying that 100 unmanned drones, both sailing and submersible, will significantly increase the US Navy’s surveillance capabilities in the region, allowing it to maintain a close check on waterways crucial to the global oil trade.
“We can just observe more by deploying unmanned systems… They’re high-reliability and remove the human aspect,” Cooper said on the sidelines of an defense demonstration in Abu Dhabi, adding that the systems are “the only option to cover on whatever gaps we have today.”
He also noted that he expects the artificial intelligence-powered drone force will be operational by the summer of 2023, providing extra “eyes and ears on the ocean.”
Cooper stated that Israel would almost certainly join the Navy’s unmanned naval drone task force in the region.
“In the future, I would foresee activities where we would work side by side,” he remarked.
The 5th Fleet, located in Bahrain, encompasses the critical Strait of Hormuz, the tiny mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of the world’s supply of oil travels. It also reaches as far as the Red Sea near the Suez Canal, Egypt’s waterway connecting West Asia to the Mediterranean, and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait off Yemen.
The move by the 5th Fleet comes just a few months after Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) stymied an attempt by US forces to steal oil from an Iranian tanker in the Sea of Oman.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new Navy task force.
The region’s high seas have witnessed a series escalations in recent years following Washington’s unilateral decision to pull out of a nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose devastating sanctions.