F-35s, 3 Amphib Warships, 2,500 Marines Operating Closer to Iran; Nimitz Reaches Edge of the South China Sea

February 4, 2021 12:17 PM
A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, prepares to receive fuel from a KC-10 Extender assigned to the 908th Expeditionary Aircraft Refueling Squadron, during an in-air refueling mission supporting Operation Octave Quartz with armed aerial patrols over Somalia, Jan. 5, 2021. US Air Force Photo

The three-ship Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, the 2,500 Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters have taken position in U.S. 5th Fleet in the North Arabian sea and are an easy sail to the Strait of Hormuz, USNI News has learned.

Amphibious warships USS Makin Island (LHD-8), USS San Diego (LPD-22) and USS Somerset (LPD-25) have moved into the same maritime territory the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group had occupied since last week, a U.S. 5th Fleet spokesperson confirmed to USNI News on Thursday.

Earlier this week, the trio of warships and Marines had been operating off the Horn of Africa under the direction of U.S. 6th Fleet. Since late December, the ARG and Marines were supporting Operation Octave Quartz, the operation to relocate 700 troops from Somalia to other parts of the continent. The Nimitz CSG and the Crete-based expeditionary sea base USS Hershel “Woody” Williams also supported the AFRICOM mission. As part of Octave Quartz, the F-35s from the 15th MEU performed armed flights over Somalia. Makin IslandSomerset and San Diego departed the West Coast in October to complete final certification exercises ahead of a deployment that commenced in mid-November.

The Makin Island Amphibious Readiness Group prepares for a replenishment-at-sea on Oct. 30, 2020. US Navy Photo

The Makin Island ARG is continuing a capital ship presence in the Middle East that the U.S. has maintained for almost two years. In May 2019, the Lincoln Carrier Strike Group was rushed to the region and since then, the U.S. has operated a near constant carrier strike group presence in the Middle East as a regional hedge against Iran – the latest being the Nimitz CSG.

Aside from supporting the move of U.S. troops in Somalia in December and a brief exercise with the Indian Navy in November, USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and its escorts have been operating just outside the Persian Gulf since July.

On Thursday morning, the homeward-bound Nimitz CSG had reached the edge of the South China Sea and was nearing a transit of the Strait of Malacca, a U.S. official confirmed to USNI News on Thursday.

USS Nimitz (CVN-68) sails in the in the Arabian Sea on Jan. 12, 2021. US Navy Photo

Over the weekend, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the Bremerton-Wash.,-based carrier and its West Coast escorts and air wing to head home.

As of Thursday, the carrier has been deployed for 243 days, according to the USNI News carrier database. That’s the longest deployment since the record-breaking 294-day deployment of USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) last year.

While the strike group’s deployment officially began in June, the sailors have been isolated from their families since April 27 as a COVID-19 protective measure.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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