The US is to send F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-35 Lightning II multi-role fighters to the Middle East in a bid to counter an increase in Iranian attacks on ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz, the Pentagon has revealed.
An undisclosed number of fighters are being deployed to Oman to increase the US presence in the troubled region after two oil tankers were approached by Iranian naval vessels on July 5. During a press briefing on July 17, Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said: “In response to a number of recent, alarming events in the Strait of Hormuz, the Secretary of Defense has ordered the deployment of the destroyer, USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116), F-35 fighters and F-16 fighters to the US Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility to defend US interests and safeguard the freedom of navigation in the region.”
She added that the move followed two attempts by Iran to seize ships in the Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman at the start of the month. “One attempt included an Iranian Navy ship firing upon the merchant vessel,” Singh said. “In light of this continued threat, and in coordination with our partners and allies, the department is increasing our presence and ability to monitor the Strait and surrounding waters.”
US CENTCOM has not yet revealed details of the F-16s and F-35s that will eventually be deployed but did confirm that the move followed the latest attacks on ships in the region. It said that, on July 5, the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker, TRF Moss, was approached by an Iranian naval vessel, but it left after the arrival of the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS McFaul (DDG-74). Later that same day, the Bahamian-flagged oil tanker, Richmond Voyager, was also approached by an Iranian naval vessel. It came within one mile of the tanker and fired on it using small arms and crew-served weapons. As with the TRF Moss, the Iranian vessel departed when USS McFaul arrived at the scene.
CENTCOM noted that Iran had attacked or attempted to seize approximately 20 merchant ships passing through the area since 2021. “We call upon Iran to immediately cease these destabilising actions that threaten the free flow of commerce through this strategic waterway, of which the world depends on for more than 1/5 of the world’s oil supply,” Singh said.