US Navy sets up Gulf drone team in the midst of Iran pressures


DUBAI: The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said on Thursday it launched a replacement task force within the Gulf incorporating drones and AI following maritime attacks blamed on Iran.

A statement by the US navy Central Command, or NAVCENT, said the task force would believe in regional and coalition partnerships.

“The bottom line on why we’re doing this is often in order that we will develop and integrate unmanned systems and AI as a way to try to do two things,” NAVCENT commander Brad Cooper said.

“One, enhance our maritime domain awareness, and two, increase deterrence,” he said within the statement.

Since February, Iran and its arch-enemy Israel are accused of engaging in what analysts have called a “shadow war”, during which vessels linked to every nation have come under fire in waters around the Gulf in tit-for-tat exchanges.

On July 29 an attack against the Israeli-linked MT Mercer Street oil products tanker off Oman’s coast killed a British watchman and a Romanian crewman.

G7 foreign ministers last month said “all available evidence clearly points to Iran” being behind the attack during which drones were used.

Iran rejected the allegations, which came days before ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi took office within the Islamic republic. The attack on Mercer Street came amid stalled talks between Tehran and world powers aimed toward reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

US Navy spokesman Tim Hawkins said the task force was “dedicated to rapidly integrate unmanned systems and AI with maritime operations within the Fifth Fleet region”. “When we mention the mixing of latest unmanned systems, we’re talking about systems which will be used under, on, and above the water,” he said.

Iran has also been accused of hijacking an asphalt and bitumen tanker within the Gulf of Oman in August, which it denied. The Fifth Fleet is predicated within the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain.

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