The arrival of the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and its escorts in the Middle East on Monday has continued to reverberate in world news in a testament to the enduring value of “gunboat diplomacy.” The conspicuous assassination of an Iranian scientist associated with the country’s nuclear program Wednesday has done nothing to quell the issue. Slated to replace the USS John C Stennis (CVN 74) carrier strike group (CSG), which has been operating in the U.S. Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility since last summer, the Vinson will soon be joined by the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) CSG, currently steaming westward from the Pacific.
As the U.S. Navy has insisted, this is perfectly consistent with routine deployment patterns. The Pentagon maintains a “1.7” carrier presence in Fifth Fleet -- keeping an average of 1.7 carriers on station over the course of the year. But the possibility of three American aircraft carriers being positioned off the coast of Iran in the wake of a 10-day Iranian naval exercise in the Strait of Hormuz is hard to ignore.
There is every indication that these are indeed routinely scheduled deployments. A sustained deployment of a CSG to the Middle East entails an enormous amount of training and preparation -- not to mention transit time. And since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there have routinely been two carriers in Fifth Fleet, and on several brief occasions, three. So even as Iran prepares for more maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz in February -- these to be conducted by the naval branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps -- Tehran can take comfort in the fact that it has seen plenty of this posturing in the past.
Yet Iran must also consider that military history is rife with examples of past behavior being used as a cover for offensive action. And with the USS George Washington (CVN-73) stationed in Yokosuka, Japan (about a week’s sail from the region), Iran must objectively consider the raw military capability at its doorstep.