US naval, air and Marine forces have launched a war game from Djibouti, off the Horn of Africa coast opposite the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea – their first drill for a potential regional clash with Iran, whether full-scale or limited. They are focusing on the simulated Iranian blockage of the region’s two vital chokepoints, the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea’s Straits of Bab al-Mandeb, DEBKAfile’s military sources report.
Taking part are 4,500 US troops of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit carried on the decks of Essex Amphibious Ready Group vessels. This group consists of the Essex amphibious assault ship, the Anchorage amphibious transport dock and the Rushmore dock landing ship. They are practicing confrontations with Iranian naval and air forces in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, and testing their rapid response capabilities in an emergency, coastal landings by the Marines, fast rescues of US fighter pilots whose planes were shot down, as well as their ability to function in waters sown with sea mines.
Also taking part in the exercise are the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, which is made up of F-35Bs, the seaplane version of the advanced stealth plane. It is capable of vertical takeoff from US aircraft carriers or from the big Marine landing craft.
It is the first time that the US has introduced the F-35 for combat duty in these regions. This US F-35 fleet, together with those flown by the Israeli Air Force, now cover a vast area – from the Strait of Hormuz, through the Gulf of Aden, the Bab al Mandeb Straits, the Red Sea and up to the Syria coast.