US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered F-35 and F-16 fighter jets deployed to the Middle East, as well as the destroyer USS Thomas Hudner, in response to Iranian activities in the Strait of Hormuz.
“In response to a number of recent alarming events in the Strait of Hormuz, the Secretary of Defense has ordered the deployment of the destroyer USS Thomas Hudner, F-35 fighters and F-16 fighters to the US Central Command Area of Responsibility to defend US interests and safeguard freedom of navigation in the region,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Monday.
The deployments come after two incidents earlier this month in which Iranian Navy ships attempted to seize merchant vessels in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.
The US Navy intervened in both incidents on July 5. In one instance, in which an Iranian vessel was approaching the Richmond Voyager oil tanker, Iranian personnel opened fire on the tanker and hit the ship near the crew’s living spaces.
“In light of this continuing threat, and in coordination with our partners and allies, the department is increasing our presence and ability to monitor the straight and surrounding waters,” Singh said. “We call upon Iran to immediately cease these destabilizing actions that threaten the free flow of commerce through this strategic waterway of which the world depends on for more than one fifth of the world’s oil supply.”
Last week, a senior defense official said that US air and maritime forces are working together to continue monitoring the waterway, recently starting to fly A-10 attack aircraft over the Strait of Hormuz. The A-10s were deployed in late March.
The US also bolstered its forces in the Middle East in May after destabilizing actions from Iran in the Persian Gulf.
“[The] United States will not allow foreign or regional powers to jeopardize freedom of navigation through the Middle East waterways, including the Strait of Hormuz,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said at the time.
He added that there is “simply no justification” for Iranian actions to interfere, harass or attack merchant ships.