Houthi drone and missile attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea are “a first,” the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Adm. Christopher Grady praised the responses of the destroyers USS Carney (DDG-64) and USS Mason (DDG-87) to Sunday’s attacks and in the Red Sea in late November. He saw Iran’s hand in arming the Houthis with missiles and drones for the attacks but stepped away from saying Tehran was directly involved in ordering the strikes.
“We were fortunate to be there” to answer the distress calls of the merchantmen and tankers, Grady said.
The Houthis have said they are targeting Israeli shipping as part of efforts to stop the Israeli strikes on Gaza.
Although attacks on commercial vessels are escalating in the Red Sea, particularly ones believed to be linked to Israel, the United States remains “pretty far” from potentially reflagging commercial vessels in order to protect them, Grady said while speaking at an m event Monday.
The United States took that step to protect oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz in the Iran-Iraq in the middle to late 1980s. Another possibility is embedding Marines on those ships, a tactic brought up after Iranian harassment of commercial vessels in the Strait of Hormuz. There are no plans to embed Marines on commercial ships, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters Monday.
“Seven nations have stepped forward” to offer protection to commercial shipping in the region and more could come aboard,” Grady said. Thirty nations are participating in anti-piracy efforts in those waters. Although China is part of that group, it was not one of the seven offering to restore “some semblance of protection” for unarmed merchantmen and tankers.
Grady noted China “didn’t make a move” when Mason answered a distress call that M/V Central Park had been boarded by five alleged Somali pirates. The five were captured trying to flee.
“It could have been really bad timing on the part of those pirates” to attempt to take the tanker over as American naval presence has increased in response to the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza, Grady said.
Grady said extending the deployment of the Ford carrier strike group in response to the fighting in Gaza that began Oct. 7 will come at a later cost in terms of maintenance. The Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group, initially deployed as part of the U.S.’s ongoing response to the Russo-Ukraine war, has been deployed for about seven and a half months.
“Right now, it’s a manageable cost,” Grady said, adding, “I think we have quite a bit of margin here.”
In addition, Grady said he and senior Royal Navy officers have discussed a role for a United Kingdom carrier strike group in this effort.
“This is a place where allies and partners could play a part,” he said.
The “tempo is a little higher” around Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands near the Philippine, he said. He said he “was impressed by what the Philippines has done” in “not ceding that battlespace in the South China Sea” to Beijing’s coast guard and naval militia.
An international tribunal ruled in 2016 the territory belongs to the Philippines, but China rejected the finding.
Grady called the situation “a test-case for the whole international order.” He insisted the United States and others will continue to exercise its rights to sail through international waters there and the Taiwan Strait despite Chinese protests, including when Littoral Combat Ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) conducted a freedom of navigation operation.
The continuing resolution is affecting the joint force, Gradyy said.
“Our top line is 3 percent below what the president requested” for Fiscal Year 2024 that began Oct. 1. In addition, if Congress cannot reach a final budget agreement, the Pentagon faces a 1 percent cut of last year’s budget.
He said also pending is an administration supplemental budget request for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. He was confident the United States could meet those nations’ needs in terms of weapons, systems and equipment since they are not seeking the things.
He estimated $1 billion was left in Taiwan’s account and $4.5 billion in Ukraine’s without passing the supplemental.
On lessons learned from almost two years of fighting in Ukraine, Grady stressed “speed and urgency” to meet changing battlefield demands. The goal is “turn faster than the enemy.”
In ways, the war can be compared to Spanish Civil War of the 1930s when it comes to introducing new technologies and tactics in war. He mentioned unmanned aerial systems and countering their effect as examples.
“We can’t forget that other stuff,” referring to trenches’, mines’ and obstacles’ impact on combat in Ukraine and elsewhere in the future.