Within hours of Hamas’s appalling attack on Israel, the United States began moving aircraft and warships to the region to be ready to provide Israel with whatever it needed to respond.
On Friday, a second U.S. carrier strike group will depart from Norfolk, Virginia. Scores of aircraft are heading to the Middle East U.S. military bases. In addition, special operations forces are now assisting Israel’s military in intelligence and planning.
The buildup reflects concern from the United States that the deadly fighting between Israel and Hamas could escalate into a more dangerous regional conflict. So, the essential mission for those warplanes and ships is to establish a force and presence that deters Iran, Hezbollah, or others from taking advantage of the situation. However, the forces the U.S. sent are capable of more than that.
The United States is also expediting the shipment of interceptors and munitions for Israel’s fight against Hamas.
What options and weapons the United States military could provide:
The United States is providing some much-needed personnel and munitions to Israel. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that a small cell of special operations is now assisting Israel with planning and intelligence. They haven’t been tasked with hostage rescue, despite some reporting, said a defense official, but could if they were requested to do so.
The U.S. is also getting defense companies in the U.S. to expedite weapons orders by Israel that were already on the books. Crucial among those is getting munitions for Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system sped up.
Tuesday, President Joe Biden said resupplying Iron Dome air defense systems and munitions was an immediate priority.
“We’re surging additional military assistance, including ammunition and interceptors to replenish Iron Dome,” said Biden. “We’re going to make sure that Israel does not run out of these critical assets to defend its cities and its citizens.”
Israel’s Iron Dome missiles target rockets that approach its cities. According to Raytheon, Israel has Iron Dome systems in place to protect 10 of its cities. Beginning with Saturday’s attack, Hamas has fired over 5,000 rockets at Israel, with most being intercepted by the Dome, according to Israel Defense Forces.
Raytheon produces most of the missile components for the Iron Dome in the United States, and the Army has two Iron Dome systems in its stockpile.
Pentagon redirects Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group toward Israel
One of the most visible examples of the response from the U.S. was the Sunday announcement by the Pentagon to redirect the Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group to move toward Israel. The carrier had just finished an exercise with the Italian Navy when the ship’s crew of around 5,000 was ordered to quickly move to the Eastern Mediterranean.
The carrier provides several options. It is a primary command and control operations center and can conduct information warfare. It can launch and recover E2-Hawkeye surveillance planes, recognizable for their 24-foot diameter disc-shaped radar.
The planes conduct surveillance, manage the airspace, provide early warnings on missile launches, detect enemy aircraft, and help direct U.S. movements.
The Ford carriers F-18 fighter jets that could strike targets or fly intercepts. The carrier has significant humanitarian capabilities onboard, including a hospital with an emergency room and ICU and around 40 surgeons, medics, and doctors. It sails with helicopters that can be used to airlift victims out or send critical supplies in.
Friday, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group will leave its homeport in Norfolk, Virginia, and say for the Mediterranean, which could double the Navy’s Israel response.
The Eisenhower was already scheduled to deploy to the Mediterranean for a regular rotation, with the Ford nearing the end of its deployment. However, the Biden administration may decide to extend the deployment of the Ford and keep both strike groups out, said John Kirby, White House spokesman, on Wednesday.
The Pentagon also ordered additional warplanes to bolster existing F-15, F-16, and A-10 squadrons at bases throughout the Middle East and is ready to add more if needed.
On Tuesday, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said that the service was doubling up by directing units that were about to come home to remain in position and stay there alongside their replacements.
The Air Force of the U.S. has significant airpower in the region to conduct crewless and manned operations, most notably in Syria, where an Air Force F-16 last week was ordered to shoot down a Turkish drone that was posing a threat to U.S. ground forces in operation there.
Kendall said U.S. Air Force C-17s have landed in and departed from Israel since the attacks. The transport planes were picking up military personnel who were set to begin a military exercise that hadn’t started when the attacks began, said the Air Force in a statement.
Neither Central Command nor the Air Force would comment further on what additional missions U.S. airpower might take in response to the conflict.