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What does the US carrier strike group near Israel bring? Tremendous firepower and an unmistakable message

Chris Panella   

What does the US carrier strike group near Israel bring? Tremendous firepower and an unmistakable message
  • The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group was sent to the eastern Mediterranean amid the crisis in Israel.
  • Aircraft carriers have long been deployed to show strength and deter hostile forces.

The US Navy's newest, largest, and most advanced aircraft carrier and the accompanying escort ships in its strike group are in position in waters near Israel, bringing a substantial amount of firepower and a powerful presence to an area grappling with instability and tragedy.

The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group — led by the eponymous first-in-class US Navy supercarrier on its first full deployment and boasting nearly two dozen new technologies — arrived in the eastern Mediterranean on Tuesday.

US officials announced the movement of the carrier strike group toward Israel on Sunday, the day after Hamas carried out deadly terror attacks against the US ally. The Ford's sudden retasking was presented as a sign of US support for Israel, as well as a deterrent — a common task for aircraft carriers, which have long been used to project American military power.

The ships sailing with the Ford include the USS Normandy — a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser — and the USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney, and USS Roosevelt — Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyers. The amount of firepower each vessel brings adds up, especially considering the capabilities of the air wing aboard USS Gerald R. Ford. With these ships, the US is sending a clear and intimidating message amid a serious international crisis.

A senior US defense official said Thursday the force posture sent this message: "The United States is unequivocal in its support for the defense of Israel and is sending a warning to any entities that would consider taking advantage of this conflict and this war to escalate violence. One word, quite simply: Don't."

Carrier strike groups "are a self-contained unit that can strike targets 1,000 miles away — farther with aerial refueling — can defend against air, missile, and submarine attack, and can maintain maritime security over an area of hundreds of square miles," Bryan Clark, a former US Navy officer and defense expert at the Hudson Institute, told Insider.

The USS Gerald R. Ford was commissioned more than five years ago and was in development for more than a decade. The price tag of the first-in-class carrier, often over budget and behind schedule during its development, was a whopping $13 billion. It set out on a short maiden deployment last year and its first full deployment as part of a fully certified carrier strike group earlier this year. That deployment is ongoing.

Despite challenges in fielding the carrier, the Ford represents a considerable upgrade over previous Nimitz-class aircraft carriers. It boasts faster aircraft sorties and a smaller crew, with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System and Advanced Arresting Gear allowing fixed-wing aircraft to launch more smoothly and effectively.

"The Ford's electromagnetic catapult and arresting gear allow it to launch and recover aircraft faster than other carriers," Clark said. He added that those capabilities might have less of an impact in the Pacific Ocean "because the flights are so long," but in areas such as the eastern Mediterranean, "being able to rapidly launch aircraft could enable the Ford to respond to air threats much faster than even ground-based aircraft."

The Ford is operating with eight squadrons of attack and support aircraft, the US Central Command says. Carrier Airwing 8 is tasked with the defense of the carrier and conducting sustained air operations and consists of aviation assets such as multirole F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, electronic-warfare EA-18G Growlers, early-warning planes such as the E-2D Hawkeye, and rotary aircraft. Carrier air wings typically have more than 70 aircraft.

Among the carrier's new technologies, the dual-band radar, capable of operating two frequency ranges, is also a major boon for operations and logistics, bolstering air defenses and surveillance. The Ford's advanced weapons elevators were designed to transport larger and more complex munitions and systems much quicker to the flight deck, enabling the fast operations for which the carrier Ford was made.

The USS Normandy, USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney, and USS Roosevelt are also key to the strike group's combat power. Carrier groups can also be escorted by a submarine, though there hasn't been mention of one.

The destroyers can carry top air-defense-interceptor missiles such as the Standard Missile 6 (SM-6), Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and the medium-range Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, and the DDGs and CG can both carry Tomahawk cruise missiles with a substantial range that would allow the strike group to hit land-based targets of an Israeli adversary beyond the range of their anti-ship weapons.

The Pentagon said the carrier strike group was moved "to strengthen Department of Defense posture in the region to bolster regional deterrence efforts," and US Central Command said this week its purpose was "to deter any actor seeking to escalate the situation or widen this war," referring to the ongoing fighting between Israel and Hamas, a Gaza-based militant group backed by Iran. The combat capability available in a strike group drives that message home.

And that clear message could be even stronger. A British Royal Navy force is being sent into the eastern Mediterranean, and reports say the US is considering the possibility of tasking a second aircraft carrier to the area.

US officials told The Wall Street Journal this week there had been conversations about sending USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, which is soon set to deploy, to the eastern Mediterranean, but it remains unclear if USS Eisenhower would replace the Ford or join its group. USS Eisenhower is setting sail this week for a deployment that was planned months ago, but the potential for the carrier to be redirected is always there. If the Eisenhower does join the Ford, it will be the first time two carriers have been deployed in the area since the March 2020 Camp Taji incident, when three soldiers in the US-led coalition were killed by rockets fired against their base in Iraq.

The US Department of Defense declined to comment to Insider on whether there were conversations on tasking the Eisenhower with a mission outside its original deployment plans.

US Navy aircraft carriers are routinely used as power-projection tools, dispatched to show the flag, show support, and stand as credible deterrents in emergencies.

The introduction of the Ford gave the Navy greater capacity. With its inclusion in the fleet and deployment, the sea service can task its 10 other carriers to other areas, such as the Persian Gulf. That gives the Navy an expanded presence and allows it to better meet demands from military leaders and combatant commanders.

The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group was deployed in direct response to surprise terror attacks by Hamas on Saturday, when the group, designated as terrorists by the US State Department, assaulted Israel, killing over 1,200 civilians and foreign nationals and injuring thousands more, Israel said.

The Israeli Defense Force has, in turn, launched devastating air strikes in Gaza against the densely populated strip with precision-guided munitions that have destroyed entire streets and scores of buildings. Authorities said more than 1,100 Palestinians had been killed, and injury numbers were significantly higher. It's likely the next step for the IDF is a ground assault on Gaza, which could result in even greater bloodshed and destruction.

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