As a show of force to Iran, the aircraft carrier Lincoln's strike group teamed with Marines from the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge to carry out intensive training operations in the Arabian Sea over the weekend.
F/A-18 Super Hornets from the Lincoln and Marine AV-8B Harrier jump jets off the Kearsarge joined in air-to-air combat and close-air support training, while the Maritime Raid Force from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit practiced fast-roping to board enemy ships, the Navy's Fifth Fleet said in a lengthy statement Sunday.
The message to Iran through exercises meant to improve operational tactics was clear. The training was "aimed towards increasing our lethality and agility to respond to threats, and deterring destabilizing actions in this important region," said Rear Adm. John Wade, commander of Carrier Strike Group 12 aboard the Lincoln.
The exercises could also be seen as the Navy's response to Iranian warnings of a possible missile threat to U.S. carriers.
- Trump Warns Iran Not to Threaten US or It Will Face 'End'
- US Allies Look to Stay Out of Possible War with Iran
- CENTCOM Shoots Down General's Claim of 'No Increased Threat' from Iran
- Carrier Lincoln Enters Red Sea After Speeding Up Transit to Middle East
- US Bombers, Fighters Begin Patrols over Persian Gulf amid Reported Iranian Threats
"An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past. But now it is a target and the threats have switched to opportunities," Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard's air force, said last week, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency.
The exercises included dissimilar air combat training (DACT) in which the Super Hornets played the adversary, giving the Harriers "a rare chance to train with a capable and stealthy opponent," the Fifth Fleet statement said.
"I'd never had a chance to train with Harriers before," said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott, a Lincoln pilot who led the DACT. "It was pretty neat to see the Harrier up close in the air."
As part of the exercises, CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from the 22nd MEU, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, completed deck qualifications on the Lincoln, and MV-22 Ospreys from the Kearsarge, based in Norfolk, Virginia, also landed on the carrier, the Fifth Fleet said.
The "tactical fluency" gained from the exercises shows that the strike group can "efficiently traverse any waters uncontested and readily employ our military assets anywhere, at any time," said Capt. Jason Rimmer, commander of the Kearsarge, according to the release.
The Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, including the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers Bainbridge, Mason and Nitze, had been on a round-the-world transit from Norfolk to a new homeport in San Diego, when it was sent to the Arabian Sea two weeks early.
The sped-up deployment followed on a May 3 announcement by National Security Adviser John Bolton that the carrier was being sent to the Gulf region along with B-52 Stratofortress bombers from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, to guard against threats to U.S. interests from Iran.
Last week, the State Department announced that non-essential personnel were being evacuated from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in northern Irbil.
Both President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have said they want to avoid war, but tensions heightened again Sunday night when a Katyusha rocket hit inside the heavily secured Green Zone in Baghdad about a mile from the U.S. Embassy, according to an Iraqi military spokesman, The Associated Press reported.
In a statement, Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said, "We are aware of an explosion" in the Green Zone. "There were no U.S. or coalition casualties, and Iraqi Security Forces are investigating the incident."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.