F-35s, Navy Destroyer Are the Latest Assets Deployed to Protect Ships from Iranian Harassment

Two F-35A Lightning IIs fly in formation
Two F-35A Lightning IIs fly in formation after receiving fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker from the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, May 15, 2019 at an undisclosed location. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Keifer Bowes)

The Pentagon said Monday that it is moving more jets and a Navy destroyer into the Persian Gulf in an effort to deter Iran from harassing and attempting to seize ships in the strategic 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 U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to defend U.S. interests and safeguard freedom of navigation in the region," Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh announced at a press conference Monday.

The move comes after news Saturday that the F-16s were being deployed, and almost two weeks after the Iranian Navy attempted to illegally seize two tankers in the area and opened fire on one of them. The additional assets will also bolster A-10 Warthog attack aircraft that have been patrolling the area for more than a week.

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Officials within the Pentagon began hinting at the possibility of more hardware moving into the area last week when a senior defense official told reporters of the F-16 deployment on Friday. Then, on Sunday, the Navy's Middle East-based 5th Fleet tweeted a photo of the Thomas Hudner entering the area.

The Navy wrote that the ship is "supporting U.S. 5th Fleet to help ensure regional maritime security and stability."

Singh said that there is "no timetable yet" for how long the deployment of the extra jets and the ship will last. She was unable to say where the planes would be coming from and directed those questions to U.S. Central Command.

Another Navy destroyer, the USS McFaul, was instrumental in preventing the Iranian seizure of merchant ships on July 5, the service said.

The next day, the Pentagon's top spokesman, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, told reporters that there was another Iranian seizure but the U.S. Navy "did not feel the need to respond in this particular case."

"There was doubt in terms of the operational activities of this commercial vessel -- the potential that it was illegally smuggling oil," Ryder explained, noting that the pair of tankers the day prior had "both hailed [and] requested assistance."

In its press release, the Navy said that, since 2021, "Iran has harassed, attacked or seized nearly 20 internationally flagged merchant vessels, presenting a clear threat to regional maritime security and the global economy."

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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