The movement of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier accompanied by the USS Normandy, a guided missile cruiser from the Persian Gulf region, to a position off the coast of Yemen could change the dynamics of the Yemen sectarian civil war.
The Roosevelt Strike Group will join with 7 other US ships to insure that the vital shipping lanes through the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits remain open and safe for commercial traffic. Nonetheless, symbols matter – nowhere moreso than in the Middle East.
The movement of the carrier clearly has raised the stakes in the Yemen sectarian civil war. On 14 April, 2015, the US Security Council, by a vote of 14 to zero, passed a resolution to embargo all arms shipment to Yemen. Iran has provided at least 180 tons of arms to the Houthis rebels, including possibly air defense equipment. Iran may feel that, since the Obama Administration is so desperate for a nuclear weapons agreement, they can continue to provide support to the Houthis rebels with impunity.
It has been reported that the Fifth Fleet is monitoring a convoy of 6 Iranian vessels escorted by two Iranian Naval ships that are headed to Yemen. Iran states they are delivering only humanitarian aid. The onus should be on Iran to prove that these ships are not carrying war material. Therefore, these ships will need to be boarded and searched for weapons. However, if Iran attempts to use their naval ships to transport weapons, this could add another factor into the equation. Should this situation develop, these Iranian naval vessels cannot be permitted to enter the port of Aden.
The Roosevelt Strike Group off the coast of Yemen becomes the dominant military force in the region. The Roosevelt and the cruiser Normandy bring a vast array of offensive and defensive capabilities. The cruiser is equipped with the long-range sophisticated Tomahawk cruise missile as well as the advanced Aegis air defense missile system. It can also provide gunfire support plus it has a host of other armaments. The Normandy, along with other naval ships, are prepared to conduct maritime interdiction operations which includes stopping, boarding, and searching ships for embargo materials.
The Roosevelt air wing has a vast array of capabilities, including long-range strike aircraft, fighters for air-to-air combat plus electronic warfare, reconnaissance, surveillance aircraft. The air wing also has a mining capability. Essentially, Roosevelt aircraft could mine the approach to Aden harbor, thereby closing the port to shipping. This is not likely to happen, since such an action would be viewed as an “act of war” and beyond the UN mandate. However, International Law is on our side, and if necessary, we have sufficient assets to establish a naval blockade of the Port of Aden.
The Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, with its vast array of resources, should be more than capable of keeping the restricted waters around the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits open and safe for commercial shipping as well as any other tasks assigned to it to enforce the UN sanctioned arms embargo or other tasks.
James A. Lyons, U.S. Navy retired Admiral, was commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.