The Biden administration’s response to Hamas attacks in Israel is the latest proof that the United States is the world’s only true military superpower.
Within hours of the magnitude of the threat to Washington’s most important ally in the Middle East becoming clear, steps were already being taken to rapidly supply needed ammunition, bolster American airpower in the region, and expand an already robust military aid program.
The administration also launched a vigorous diplomatic effort to demonstrate its commitment to Israeli security, sending the secretary of state, the secretary of defense and, ultimately, the president himself to high-level meetings in the Jewish state.
No other nation can provide so much support so quickly to an ally besieged thousands of thousands from its homeland. The logistical capacity simply does not exist in countries like Russia and China, so they tend to deploy their forces close to home.
However, among the many strands of a complex response to regional conflict, one facet stands out as by far the most important in deterring the spread of war and demonstrating resolution: the deployment of overwhelming naval power.
On October 19, a dozen days after the Hamas attacks began, the Pentagon had sent A strike group comprised of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and five surface combatants, including four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
A ready amphibious group composed of an assault ship and two dock landing ships, which together host the 2,200 troops of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
One or more attack submarines capable of collecting various information from Israel and its surroundings and protecting the aforementioned surface ships.
I’m speculating on this last point, but in such a conflict, it would be standard practice to deploy underwater warships capable of eavesdropping on the communications frequencies preferred by terrorists and local navies without being detected.
As for surface ships, they represent the most powerful naval force that any nation in the world can deploy. A Ford-class aircraft carrier can make more than 200 aircraft sorties daily in a crisis. Its air wing includes four fighter squadrons – each of which can engage precisely multiple targets in a single sortie – and separate squadrons of airborne reconnaissance aircraft and electronic jammers to shut down hostile radars and radios (including mobile phones).
A Nimitz-class aircraft carrier like the Eisenhower is somewhat less efficient than a Ford-class carrier but is still capable of destroying any concentration of hostile forces in a matter of days. The two aircraft carriers currently deployed in the eastern Mediterranean have unlimited endurance thanks to their nuclear propulsion and can operate for months without resupply. Its carrier wings can maintain total air dominance in the region indefinitely.
The seven Arleigh Burke-class destroyers accompanying the aircraft carriers are the world’s most advanced air and missile defense warships, capable of simultaneously defending against underwater, surface and air threats. They also have a powerful ability to attack ground targets thanks to their long-range cruise missiles.
The amphibious assault ship that serves as the flagship of the Marine Ready Force, the USS Bataan, houses helicopters and jump planes (vertical takeoff and landing fighters) that can land anywhere they are needed without the need for a runway. The three “amphibians” in the prepared group are designed to deal with precisely the type of contingency that Hamas aggression represents.
The Marines continually train for this type of combat, although there is no indication that Israel will need direct support from US troops to suppress the threat posed by Hamas in the south or Hezbollah in the north.
However, Israel is located in a difficult neighborhood, and its borders are not optimized for defense. If other countries in the region attempted to take advantage of the current situation, the Jewish State could find its forces challenged on multiple fronts.
Thus, the massive naval presence sent by the Biden administration has a primary objective: to prevent the conflict from spreading by threatening any new aggressor with consequences. In the words of the Pentagon, declared Sabrina Singh: “Our main objective is to send a message of deterrence.”
This is the main reason why the US Navy continually deploys its warships to places like the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf: not to fight wars but to deter them. However, as Edward Gibbon said of the Romans, “They preserved the peace by constant preparation for war.”
That’s how the Navy and Marine Corps think about readiness: You can’t stop unless you’re prepared to fight and win. That is why the US naval forces are the best equipped in the world and the best trained. Few armies can aspire to a similar degree of discipline.
Of course, the US Army and Air Force exhibit similar discipline. But here’s the difference in a place like the Middle East: They can’t operate without bases on land – land owned by countries that might not share Washington’s enthusiasm for Israeli security.
Therein lies the most important characteristic of a sea-based force. It does not need permission from other countries to continually appear and operate in war zones. Additionally, their bases are constantly moving, making them less vulnerable to attack than fixed land bases.
With most of the world’s population located within one hundred miles of the sea, naval forces offer the best combination of capabilities to address regional crises such as the one unfolding in Israel. Without a highly flexible and versatile navy, the United States could not be the military superpower it has become.