New Navy Task Force Aims to Deter Iran with Unmanned Systems

September 17, 2021

Weapon Program: 

  • Military

Author: 

Farzin Nadimi

Author's Title: 

Associate Fellow

Publication: 

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Related Country: 

  • Israel
  • Bahrain
  • Yemen
  • United Arab Emirates

On September 9, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command announced that it was forming Task Force 59 (TF 59) to test new unmanned air, surface, and underwater technologies under the command of robotics expert Capt. Michael Brasseur. Part of a wider “netted fleet” experiment, the initiative aims to rapidly integrate advanced autonomous systems with maritime and littoral operations in the 5th Fleet’s area of responsibility, which encompasses the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman, Bab al-Mandab Strait, Red Sea, Suez Canal, and parts of the Indian Ocean. As the announcement noted, the Middle East is an ideally challenging and strategically appropriate environment for such innovation, with its semi-enclosed geography, high-temperature operating conditions, congested maritime chokepoints, and crucial energy infrastructure.

Iran has been quick to criticize the move, characterizing it as part of a wider U.S. conspiracy to “hand over” regional military responsibilities to other actors. According to a recent article issued by Nour News—an outlet reportedly affiliated with the regime’s Supreme National Security Council—Washington’s supposed intent is twofold: to install a “joint Gulf Arab-Israeli proxy force” at Iran’s doorstep (referring to Israel’s move from EUCOM to CENTCOM earlier this month), and to establish an Israeli cyber and surveillance station in the United Arab Emirates.

In light of such perceptions, Tehran will likely treat TF 59 operations as a serious threat and launch concerted efforts to hamper them with electromagnetic interference, cyber intrusions, and physical disruption. And given the unmanned nature of the force’s assets and activities, Iran may feel that it is immune from retaliatory measures if it captures or destroys them—a conclusion supported by its June 2019 shootdown and recovery of an advanced RQ-4A BAMS-D drone over the Strait of Hormuz, its capture of an RQ-170 Sentinel drone in 2011, and other incidents that failed to trigger a kinetic U.S. response.

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Read the rest of the policy analysis at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.