As tensions between the United States and Iran continue to rise and fall, a Navy carrier strike group and amphibious ready group exercised together in the Arabian Sea over the weekend in a somewhat rare training event.
Sitting just outside the Persian Gulf, the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group with embarked 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit practiced rapidly aggregating and establishing a joint command and control environment, as well as a range of air and surface warfare skills.
A Navy news release notes this joint exercise comes amid “credible threat indicators” from Iran and “highlight[s] the ability of the U.S. Navy to quickly mobilize assets and aggregate different platforms with a variety of operational capabilities.
Rear Adm. John Wade, the commander of the Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, said in the release that “the exercises and training we are doing with Amphibious Squadron Six, the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and USS Kearsarge are aimed towards increasing our lethality and agility to respond to threats, and deterring destabilizing actions in this important region.”
The exercise included both relevant skills if the two groups were called to respond to an emerging crisis in the Persian Gulf, as well as skills that aren’t typically rehearsed due to the carrier and surface combatant community and the amphibious warship community having separate training cycles and focusing on different warfare objectives in training.
F/A-18E-F Super Hornets from USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) served as opposing force aircraft for the AV-8B Harriers off USS Kearsarge (LHD-3), giving the Harriers a higher-end opponent to train with than usual.
“I’d never had a chance to train with Harriers before,” Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott, a pilot with Carrier Air Wing 7 who led the dissimilar air combat training event, said in the Navy’s news release.
“We also had the Harriers receive gas from our airborne F/A-18 mission tanker – something that rarely happens. It was pretty neat to see the Harrier up close in the air.”
The Super Hornets and Harriers also joined with attack helicopters from Kearsarge to conduct a joint close air support exercise, bringing together platforms that conduct CAS on their own but generally not in that combination.
CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters from Kearsarge had a chance to conduct deck landing qualifications on both Lincoln and Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG-96), and Marine MV-22 Ospreys had a chance to land on the carrier as well. On the surface warfare side, a maritime raid force from 22nd MEU conducted visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) training and a fast-roping exercise with Bainbridge.
“This tactical fluency across platforms allows us to efficiently traverse any waters uncontested and readily employ our military assets anywhere, at any time, as demonstrated through this interoperability between Kearsarge and the carrier strike group,” Capt. Jason Rimmer, commanding officer of Kearsarge, said in the news release.
The exercises took place on May 17 and 18. Earlier in the month, the Lincoln CSG was on a routine deployment and operating in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Kearsarge ARG and 22nd MEU were also on a routine deployment in U.S. 5th Fleet, with USS Arlington (LPD-24) operating in the Mediterranean as has become routine during ARG/MEU deployments.
A May 5 statement from National Security Advisor John Bolton cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran as reason for a naval buildup. The Lincoln CSG was rushed through the Suez Canal and into 5th Fleet waters, and an Air Force bomber task force was deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of operations. On May 10 the Defense Department announced a further buildup of forces, as Arlington was ordered back to 5th Fleet and a Patriot air defense battery was sent to the region.
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region,” reads that DoD statement.
Tensions appeared to simmer, after The Washington Post reported last week that President Donald Trump was not interested in a fight with Iran and wanted to find a diplomatic solution. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week he did not seek a war with the United States, Reuters reported.
However, over the weekend, just after the Lincoln CSG and Kearsarge ARG drills ended, a rocket hit the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, less than a mile from the U.S. embassy there. The Associated Press reported that Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul told AP reporters the military was investigating but that the rocket was believed to have been fired from east Baghdad, home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.
Trump tweeted Sunday afternoon after the attack, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!”