The US Navy has unexpectedly dispatched a fourth aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, along with a fleet of underwater drones in what is being considered just the latest move in a series of escalations leading towards a potential war with Iran.
The deployment of dozens of small, unmanned submarine-like watercraft was confirmed by the Los Angeles Times this week, which cites military officials speaking on condition of anonymity.
This particular type of craft, unmanned SeaFox submersible, are reported to be sent to the Gulf so that the US military can detect and destroy any mines that may be planted in the waterway by Iranian officials if they escalate efforts to block the Strait of Hormuz, a strategically important narrow stretch of water that exists as an immensely important conduit for any resources being moved in or out of the Middle East.
The Times says that the subs, at only 4 feet long and fewer than 100 pounds apiece, can move at speeds up to six knots at depths of 300 feet. The price-tag is reported to be $100,000 each, which includes an intricate waterproof television camera and a homing sonar system. The US rush-ordered a shipment in May in a deal with Germany under the direct of Marine Gen. James Mattis, the top US commander in the Middle East. It is reported that a fleet of SeaFox subs were deployed overseas several weeks back, but has only been confirmed now.
The United States has already sent three massive aircraft carriers to the waterways outside of Iran, including the USS Enterprise, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Abraham Lincoln, and will now add the USS John C Stennis to that fleet in August. Unlike these behemoth ships equipped with billions worth of weaponry and service personnel, America’s other new addition to the battlefront is invisible to those on land and can be controlled from anywhere in the world.
"In the Cold War, minesweeping warfare was a large part of what the Navy did, but we have lost a lot of our minesweeping capability," Christopher Harmer, a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, tells the Times. "The SeaFox is a relatively simple, off-the-shelf system that we can put off our minesweepers but also any surface ship."
Harmer adds to the paper that although Iran has the capabilities of coming through with its threats of closing the strait, the latest addition to the United States Navy would make sure a blockade wouldn’t last long.
"If they wanted to close the Strait of Hormuz, they could do it, but they would only be able to do it one time," he says.
The new fleet of SeaFox subs will accompany two massive aircraft carriers and a collection of F-22 fighter jets that America has already sent towards Iran. When the United States upped its presence in Persian Gulf earlier this year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters, “We want them to know that we are fully prepared to deal with any contingency and it’s better for them to try to deal with us through diplomacy.”