The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group is now operating in the Middle East after transiting the Suez Canal on Tuesday, U.S. 5th Fleet officials told USNI News.
USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) and USS San Antonio (LPD-17) entered the Red Sea on Tuesday with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked.
The MEU is made up of Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/8, a logistics combat element, Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 24, and an aviation combat element, Medium Tilt-Rotor Squadron (VMM) 162 Reinforced. The 24th MEU also includes a Light Armored Reconnaissance detachment.
The ARG left the East Coast on March 25 and operated extensively off the coast of the U.K. as part of the NATO exercise Ragnar Viking and part of the Royal Navy carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R06) strike group’s graduation drill Exercise Strike Warrior.
Following the exercises, the ARG/MEU entered the Mediterranean Sea last week before beginning its transit through the Suez Canal.
Iwo Jima’s entrance into 5th Fleet is the first ARG in the region since USS Makin Island, USS San Diego (LPD-22) and USS Somerset (LPD-25) and the embarked 15th MEU departed in late March.
Meanwhile, the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group officially began its Western Pacific patrol last week after completing carrier qualifications following its annual repair period with personnel from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS) & Intermediate Maintenance Facility (IMF) Detachment Yokosuka and Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
Japan-based USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) departed its homeport of Naval Fleet Support Activity Yokosuka on May 19 for carrier qualifications with Carrier Air Wing 5 embarked. Carrier Strike Group 5 commenced its patrol on May 29, U.S. Pacific Fleet told USNI News.
Later this summer, Reagan will make a rare move to U.S. 5th Fleet to provide support to the U.S. Afghanistan withdrawal, USNI News confirmed last week.
The repositioning of the Japan-based carrier to the Middle East will be a first for the Navy since the former carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) made a special deployment to the region in 2003 to support the invasion of Iraq.
The decision to have Reagan and the air wing provide support for U.S. forces in Afghanistan is an indication of the limited carrier options the Pentagon has to cover the withdrawal.
The next carrier and air wing able to deploy from the U.S. are USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and Carrier Air Wing 2, which will begin their final series of graduation exercises later this year.