BEIRUT – Task Force 59 integrated MANTAS T-12 unmanned surface ships with manned U.S. patrol vessels and maritime assets from the Bahrain Defense Forces during its New Horizon exercise this week.
The two-day training exercise marked the first time Naval Forces Central Command integrated USVs with manned assets at sea in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. New Horizon was also the first time that NAVCENT integrated USV with manned assets at sea alongside partner forces.
“This exercise is an example of the growing role of autonomy in war,” Jean Marc Rickli, head of global and emerging risks at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, told Defense News. “Technology is increasingly used as a substitute. As part of the American commitments in the Gulf, it provides the United States and its allies with a force multiplier, while at the same time the strategic interests of the United States [have] turned towards Asia ”,
According to a US Navy statement, the first phase of New Horizon, conducted on October 20, featured operators controlling the USVs aboard the coastal patrol vessel USS Firebolt (PC 10), while the ships maneuvered. at high speed in formation.
The final phase, on October 26, brought together a larger force of manned and unmanned sea and air assets from NAVCENT, the Royal Bahrain Naval Force (RBNF) and the Bahrain Coast Guard.
Assets participating in the two-day exercise included the USCGC Maui patrol boat (WPB 1304), an SH-60S helicopter, a V-BAT unmanned aerial vehicle, and RBNF patrol boats.
Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of NAVCENT, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, said in a statement that “Bahrain, as the first regional partner to collaborate with Task Force 59 during an exercise at sea, demonstrates the strengthening of our romantic relationship strategy. “
Rickli noted that “the MANTAS T-12 is an unmanned multirole surface vessel that can perform different types of operations such as maritime patrol, search and rescue, surveillance, mine warfare or security. and the formation of the naval fleet ”.
“It offers two advantages: its multi-role function and the fact that it is unmanned, thus replacing human capabilities,” he added.
In terms of asymmetric threats in the Gulf, Rickli said Iran has developed niche capabilities to thwart the United States and put pressure on the Gulf monarchies by developing a network of human surrogates in the Gulf and using a saturation strategy through missiles and drones as well as small fast ships.
“The idea behind the saturation strategy is to saturate your opponent’s defense by launching an attack with a multitude of vectors that will make it impossible to intercept everything. Thus, some will pass and the strike will be crowned with success. Developing and engaging USVs such as Mantas T-12 provides additional resources to the defender to thwart such attacks, as these resources require less human capital and therefore can be multiplied more easily, ”said Rickli.
Regarding the importance of theater, Abdullah Al Junaid, a Bahraini strategic expert and political researcher, told Defense News that “this particular step is to minimize the risk to US patrol boats assigned to security functions of capital ships. transiting through the Strait of Hormuz, anti-mining, CT and [ISR]. “
Agnès Helou is the Middle East correspondent for Defense News. His interests include missile defense, cybersecurity, interoperability of weapons systems, and strategic issues in the Middle East and Gulf region.