US Navy ships in Mediterranean bring considerable abilities to help Israel if called upon
Stars and Stripes October 18, 2023
NAPLES, Italy — Two U.S. Navy carrier groups being positioned in the eastern Mediterranean Sea possess intelligence-gathering and patrol capabilities that could boost Israel in its battle against Hamas, naval analysts said.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group is joining the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier group primarily to send a deterrence message to Iran and any other groups thinking of turning the war in the Gaza Strip into a regional conflict.
Ford has a dual-band radar that creates a 360-degree view of activity around the carrier, including the airspace above it. That system could help Israel watch for potential long-range ballistic missile threats, said Bryan Clark, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Defense Concepts and Technology.
Meanwhile, Navy aircraft could be used to patrol Israel’s perimeter.
“That frees up Israeli aircraft to focus on waging the fight,” Clark said.
Ford’s accompanying ships and its air wing, including E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes and E/A-18G Growlers, complement Israeli intelligence capabilities. The ship’s quick launch and recovery system for aircraft also could come in handy should Israel need a rapid air response, he said.
But if the conflict remains limited to Hamas and small-scale skirmishes with Hezbollah at the northern border with Lebanon, it’s unclear whether much help will be needed by Israel, which already has advanced intelligence-gathering abilities.
There is no airstrike threat facing the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli navy will be comprehensively guarding against possible small-boat attacks, said Jan van Tol, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.
There also is no need for U.S. patrols to assist Israel’s air force aircraft, van Tol said, adding that it’s more important to minimize friendly-fire issues.
An extension of the Ford carrier strike group’s deployment was announced Tuesday. The strike group already was on duty in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of responsibility, which includes the Mediterranean, and was nearing the end of a six-month deployment.
There are more than 4,500 sailors aboard the carrier, a 6th Fleet spokesperson said in a statement Wednesday.
Officials wouldn’t say how long the carrier would remain in the region, citing operational security concerns, but some analysts believe that it will be for at least a month, depending on how the war develops.
It will need to return sometime soon if the Navy wants to keep to maintenance and deployment schedules, said Steven Wills, a retired Navy officer and research scientist at the Arlington, Va.-based think tank CNA.
The strike group includes the cruiser USS Normandy and destroyers USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney and USS Roosevelt. Carrier groups often have unannounced support from a submarine as well.
On Friday, Hudner and Roosevelt were moored at U.S. Naval Support Activity Souda Bay on the Greek island of Crete, a post to 6th Fleet’s Facebook page showed.
Also on Tuesday, the Pentagon told about 2,000 personnel and a range of units to be ready for deployment related to the situation in the Middle East.
That followed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s order Saturday sending the Eisenhower group to the eastern Mediterranean. The Eisenhower already was scheduled for deployment to Europe.
The carriers also could assist with the evacuations, hostage rescues or humanitarian efforts. The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which specializes in amphibious and special operations, as well as humanitarian missions, is nearby in the Persian Gulf region along with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group.
But equally important, the Ford and Eisenhower display American commitment to the Middle East, demonstrating to Israel and other regional allies that the U.S. is interested and will respond, Clark said.
Willis added that the moves also send a message to Russia, China and other competitors that the U.S. can quickly move naval assets to address concerns.
The Ford’s nearby presence is “offering a lot of help to a key U.S. ally and partner to do what they need to do,” Wills said.