On December 18, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the inception of Operation Prosperity Guardian under Combined Task Force (CTF) 153, aimed at bolstering security in the Red Sea and ensuring the safe passage of maritime shipping. This strategic move followed a series of events in the Middle East, particularly concerning the Houthi rebels’ activities, which have significant implications for regional stability and global trade.
Operation Prosperity Guardian, announced by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, represents a significant shift in international maritime security efforts in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. This initiative was launched in response to the escalating threat posed by the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have been targeting merchant ships in the Red Sea.
Overview of Operation Prosperity Guardian
- Objective: The main aim of Operation Prosperity Guardian is to ensure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, vital international waterways. This operation falls under the structure of the existing Combined Task Force 153 (CTF-153).
- Participants: The operation has garnered support from over 20 nations, including the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain. These countries have come together to jointly address security challenges in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
- Assets Involved: The U.S. Navy’s presence in the region includes at least three destroyers – USS Carney, USS Mason, and USS Thomas Hudner. The UK Royal Navy’s guided-missile destroyer HMS Diamond and the French Navy’s guided-missile frigate FS Languedoc have also been operating in the Red Sea. These ships have been active in intercepting and destroying weapons launched from Yemen, including guided cruise missiles, short-range ballistic missiles, and Iranian-built Shahed delta-winged drones.
- Operational Focus: The task force aims to ensure safe passage for merchant shipping in the southern Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Bab-el-Mandeb straits. It addresses the escalating threat to commerce and international law by countering the ballistic missiles and uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAVs) launched by non-state actors at vessels in international waters.
- Strategic Importance: The Red Sea is a critical commercial corridor, with around 20,000 commercial vessels transiting through it annually. Securing this route is vital for global trade and economic stability.
- Deterrence Strategy: The essence of Operation Prosperity Guardian is deterrence, achieved through a visible and increased military presence in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. This presence is aimed at discouraging rebel attacks and ensuring the security of commercial shipping.
- Challenges and Complexities: The coalition faces several challenges, including coordinating the diverse contributions of its members and managing complex command structures. For instance, while Italy’s Virginio Fasan and France’s FS Languedoc are part of the operation, they maintain independent command structures, adding complexity to the coordination of activities.
- Absence of Key Arab Nations: Notably, key Arab nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not part of the coalition, which could have implications for regional dynamics and the effectiveness of the operation.
- Recent Activities: Task Force 153 has been actively engaged in protecting commercial shipping from Houthi rebel attacks. For example, the USS Carney successfully engaged a wave of 14 UAVs in December 2023. The task force operates both as an at-sea command and with support from CMF staff ashore in Bahrain.
- Implications for International Security: The operation reflects the international community’s response to the changing nature of maritime security threats, emphasizing the need for a collective approach to ensure safe navigation and uphold international law.
- Recent Developments: The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier and its escorts have been moved to the Gulf of Aden, enhancing the military presence in the region. This deployment is indicative of the United States’ commitment to maintaining regional stability and safeguarding vital maritime routes.
Implications and Challenges
- Strategic Importance: The Red Sea is a crucial global trade route, with 10 to 15 percent of world shipping passing through it. The Houthi attacks have severely impacted global trade and commerce, with major companies like BP and Maersk avoiding the Red Sea route.
- Complexity of Modern Warfare: The operation highlights the evolving nature of warfare, where non-state actors like the Houthis can significantly challenge traditional military powers. The use of relatively inexpensive drones and missiles by the Houthis contrasts starkly with the high costs incurred by the US Navy to counter these threats.
- Diplomatic Tensions and Implications: The situation also brings to light the complexities of international relations and the need for a collective response to such asymmetric threats. The involvement of multiple nations underlines the global concern over the security of these crucial maritime routes.
The Triggering Events
On November 19, 2023, the Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea. The ship, flagged by the Bahamas and operated by a Japanese company, NYK Line, was associated with an Israeli billionaire, though it had no Israelis on board. The crew consisted of individuals from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Mexico.
The Houthis hijacked the ship as part of their stance against Israel and its campaign against Gaza’s Hamas rulers, with the intention to continue targeting ships with Israeli links until the end of Israel’s campaign against Gaza. This incident has been condemned by various nations, including Japan and Israel, with Israel regarding it as an act of Iranian terror. The seizure aligns with the Houthis’ strategy of targeting Red Sea shipping as leverage in regional geopolitics and to express solidarity with Palestinians.
Wider Implications on Global Trade and Security
The attack has had significant implications for global shipping and trade, particularly in the Red Sea region. Some of the world’s largest shipping companies, including the Mediterranean Shipping Company, France’s CMA CGM, and Denmark’s AP Moller-Maersk, have suspended transit through the Red Sea due to the attacks. The Red Sea is a critical route for global trade, particularly for the shipment of oil and liquefied natural gas. This disruption has led to increased journey times and costs for shipping companies.
Political and Diplomatic Responses
The Yemeni government, which is internationally recognized but operates out of Aden, has condemned the attacks, seeing them as a violation of their sovereignty. However, they are cautious about being perceived as supportive of Israel. Iran, a key backer of the Houthis, has been careful in its involvement, with experts noting the limitations of Tehran’s influence over the Houthi agenda. The attacks also serve as a diplomatic strategy by the Houthis, potentially influencing ongoing dialogues and ceasefires mediated by the United Nations and involving Saudi Arabia, which supports the Yemeni government.
Geopolitical Context and Houthi Motivations
- Strategic Location: The Houthis’ control over northern Yemen places them at a crucial point in the Red Sea, particularly near the Bab al-Mandeb strait, a vital shipping lane for global trade. This strategic location has been underutilized in the past but is now being leveraged by the Houthis.
- Iran’s Influence: While Iran is a key backer of the Houthis, experts emphasize that the Houthis have their own independent agenda, and Tehran’s influence should not be overestimated. The Houthis share some goals with Iran but also pursue their own interests.
Impact on Global Shipping and Trade
- Disruption of Key Trade Routes: The Bab al-Mandeb strait, where these incidents have occurred, is a critical passageway for about 12% of the world’s seaborne oil and 8% of liquefied natural gas. The disruption has affected various types of cargo, including grain and manufactured goods.
- Shift in Shipping Routes: Many companies have begun rerouting their ships around the southern tip of Africa, adding approximately nine days to their journey and increasing costs by at least 15%.
International and Regional Responses
- United States: The U.S. imposed sanctions on 13 alleged financiers of the Houthis and formed a 10-nation maritime coalition, including the UK, France, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Seychelles, and Bahrain, to counteract the threats in the Red Sea.
- Yemen’s Government: Yemen’s internationally recognized government, operating from Aden, has condemned the Red Sea attacks but is cautious about appearing supportive of Israel.
- Saudi Arabia’s Role: Saudi Arabia, supporting Yemen’s government, is involved in dialogue with the Houthis, aiming for a long-term ceasefire. This dialogue is part of a broader regional power play, with the Red Sea tensions potentially affecting oil trade and regional economies.
Domestic Implications in Yemen
- Recruitment and Ideology: The Houthis have capitalized on their support for Palestine to recruit new fighters, despite the ongoing domestic conflict in Yemen. This demonstrates the domestic popularity of their stance against Israel.
- Diplomatic Strategy: The Red Sea attacks are also seen as part of the Houthis’ diplomatic strategy, influencing their negotiations with Saudi Arabia and other regional powers.
Specifics of the Galaxy Leader Incident
- Ship Details: The Galaxy Leader, a Bahamas-flagged vehicle carrier, was operated by Japan’s NYK Line and had a multinational crew. The ship was affiliated with an Israeli billionaire, though no Israelis were on board.
- Method of Hijacking: The Houthis used a helicopter to descend onto the Galaxy Leader and seize control. This method is reminiscent of tactics previously used by Iran in similar situations.
- Crew and Ownership: The crew included nationals from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, and Mexico. The complex nature of international shipping often involves a series of management companies, flags, and owners across the globe.
- International Condemnation: The incident has drawn condemnation from nations like Japan and Israel, highlighting the international ramifications of such actions.
Impact on Major Shipping Companies
The Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have significantly disrupted global shipping and trade, with far-reaching implications for several major shipping companies and nations. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the impact:
Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC)
- Impact: MSC is one of the largest container shipping companies affected by the Houthi attacks. The disruption has likely caused delays and rerouting of their shipments.
- Response: The company may have had to reroute their ships around the Cape of Good Hope, increasing transit times and operational costs.
- Impact: As a leading player in global shipping, Maersk’s operations through the Red Sea are significantly disrupted. This affects their Asia-Europe trade routes.
- Response: Maersk likely rerouted their vessels, leading to longer transit times and potentially higher costs for shipment.
CMA CGM Group
- Impact: This French container transportation and shipping company faces similar disruptions, impacting its cargo movement efficiency.
- Response: CMA CGM may have also opted for alternate routes, impacting delivery schedules and operational costs.
- Impact: The German international shipping and container transportation company is another major player affected, with potential delays and increased transit times.
- Response: Hapag-Lloyd’s rerouting strategies would have implications for their scheduling and cost efficiency.
- Impact: As a major oil company, BP’s oil shipments through the Red Sea are crucial. The Houthi attacks have likely disrupted their supply chain.
- Response: BP has possibly paused Red Sea oil shipments or rerouted them, impacting delivery timelines and costs.
Geographical and Economic Impact
Asia-Europe Trade: Approximately 40% of Asia-Europe trade normally goes through the Red Sea. The rerouting of ships due to the Houthi attacks could have a huge economic impact, especially on supply chains and shipping costs.
Impact on Global Trade Arteries: The situation is exacerbated by simultaneous disruptions in other major trade routes like the Panama Canal, due to drought. This makes alternative routes like the Red Sea crucial but less viable due to the threats.
CTF 153’s Role and Composition
CTF 153’s fleet is a formidable assembly of naval power, comprising three U.S. destroyers – the USS Carney, USS Mason, and USS Thomas Hudner. Each of these vessels is equipped with advanced capabilities for interception and combat, making them well-suited for the task of securing the maritime domain against varied threats.
In addition to the U.S. destroyers, the task force includes the HMS Diamond, a guided-missile destroyer of the UK Royal Navy. The HMS Diamond enhances the operational reach and effectiveness of CTF 153, bringing in additional interception and defense capabilities.
Let’s delve into the technical details and recent developments regarding the key units actively engaged in this operation.
- USS Carney (DDG-64): An Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS Carney is equipped with the Aegis Combat System, facilitating integrated air and missile defense capabilities. It can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles, has anti-submarine warfare capabilities, and is designed for escort and area defense missions.
- USS Mason (DDG-87): Another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS Mason features advanced radar systems, anti-air and anti-surface capabilities, and can engage in offensive and defensive operations against aircraft, cruise missiles, and submarines.
- USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116): This is the newest of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in the task force. It boasts enhanced radar and missile systems, including the SM-3 and SM-6 missiles, designed for extended air defense.
- USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69): An aircraft carrier that serves as a floating airbase, providing immense air power projection capabilities. It can carry a mix of F/A-18 Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, and helicopters.
- USS Florida (SSGN-728): An Ohio-class cruise missile submarine, the USS Florida can carry up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and provides covert strike capabilities.
- HMS Diamond (D34): A Type 45 destroyer, HMS Diamond is equipped with the Sea Viper air defense system, capable of simultaneous tracking and engagement of multiple targets. It also carries Lynx or Wildcat helicopters for anti-submarine warfare.
- FS Languedoc (D653): A FREMM multipurpose frigate, it’s equipped with advanced sonar systems, anti-air and anti-ship missiles, and naval cruise missiles. It can engage in anti-submarine warfare and deep strike missions.
- Virginio Fasan (F591): A FREMM multipurpose frigate similar to the French Languedoc, it features advanced electronic warfare capabilities and can perform a variety of missions from sea control to patrol operations.
- Bahrain, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain: These nations contribute various naval assets, including frigates, corvettes, and support vessels. Each brings specific capabilities like maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, and surface-to-surface missile systems.
- Australia and Greece: Recently joined the coalition, their specific contributions are yet to be detailed.
TABLE 1 – Armaments detail
United States Assets
- USS Carney (DDG-64)
- Class: Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
- Armament: Equipped with the Aegis combat system, Tomahawk cruise missiles, Standard Missile-2 and 3, anti-submarine rockets, and torpedoes.
- Features: Advanced radar and sensor systems, capable of engaging multiple targets simultaneously.
- USS Mason (DDG-87)
- Class: Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
- Armament: Similar to USS Carney, with robust anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine capabilities.
- Features: Enhanced missile defense capabilities and equipped for network-centric warfare.
- USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116)
- Class: Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
- Armament: Advanced missile systems including SM-3 and SM-6 for extended air defense and ballistic missile defense.
- Features: State-of-the-art command and control systems, and improved radar capability.
- USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69)
- Type: Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.
- Air Wing: Capable of carrying a mix of fighter jets, electronic warfare aircraft, early warning aircraft, and helicopters.
- Features: Nuclear-powered, providing long-range, high endurance, and significant power projection capabilities.
- USS Florida (SSGN-728)
- Type: Ohio-class cruise missile submarine.
- Armament: 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and capability for covert special operations.
- Features: Stealthy, capable of extended submerged operation, and versatile in mission profiles from strike to intelligence collection.
- HMS Diamond (D34)
- Class: Type 45 destroyer.
- Armament: Sea Viper air defense system, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and naval guns.
- Features: Advanced radar capabilities, helicopter landing facility, and high-speed maneuverability.
- FS Languedoc (D653)
- Class: Aquitaine-class FREMM multipurpose frigate.
- Armament: Naval cruise missiles, Exocet MM40 anti-ship missiles, Aster surface-to-air missiles.
- Features: Advanced sonar and electronic warfare systems, helicopter facilities, and significant anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
- Virginio Fasan (F591)
- Class: FREMM multipurpose frigate.
- Armament: Similar to FS Languedoc, with capabilities for anti-air, anti-ship, and anti-submarine warfare.
- Features: Equipped with advanced radar and communication systems, and designed for flexibility in various naval operations.
Other contributing nations: Bahrain, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain also contribute with various vessels, each bringing unique capabilities to the operation. Details of specific ships and their armaments can be found through their respective naval forces’ official communications and defense news outlets.
Reinforcements and Strategic Enhancements
CTF 153’s primary mission is to ensure the safety and security of international maritime traffic in the Red Sea region. This task has become more challenging due to the aggressive actions of the Houthi rebels, who have targeted both commercial and military vessels with missiles and drones. The task force’s active engagement in intercepting these threats underscores its critical role in maintaining the free flow of commerce and navigation in these international waters.
Strategic Importance of the Red Sea:
- Critical Maritime Corridor: The Red Sea is one of the world’s most important maritime passages, linking the Suez Canal with the Indian Ocean. It is a critical artery for global trade, particularly for oil shipments from the Middle East to Europe and North America.
- Geopolitical Significance: The region’s strategic importance is underscored by its proximity to several key countries and volatile regions. It serves as a maritime border for countries like Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, and Yemen, each with its own set of security challenges.
Strategic Analysis of CTF 153’s Operations
The Red Sea is a vital corridor for global maritime trade, including significant oil shipments. The stability of this region is crucial not only for the bordering nations but also for global economic stability. The Houthi rebels in Yemen, backed by Iran, represent a challenge in this strategic area, reflecting broader regional power dynamics, particularly the Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry.
Nature of the Houthi Threat:
- Aggressive Military Tactics: The Houthi rebels, with backing from Iran, have engaged in aggressive military tactics, including the use of missiles and drones to target commercial and military vessels. This has significantly raised the security stakes in the region.
- Impact on Maritime Security: These actions by the Houthis pose a direct threat to the safety and free passage of international maritime traffic. They also have broader implications for global trade and energy security.
CTF 153’s Operations
Mission Scope of CTF 153
- Securing Key Maritime Areas: CTF 153’s operations are centered around ensuring the security of vital maritime zones, particularly the Bab al-Mandeb Strait and the Gulf of Aden. These areas are critical for global trade and energy transport.
- Protecting Commercial Vessels: A significant part of CTF 153’s mission is to safeguard commercial vessels transiting these waters. The region’s strategic importance for international shipping, particularly oil tankers, makes its security imperative for global economic stability.
- Counteracting Houthi Threats: The Houthi rebels have targeted maritime vessels using missiles and UAVs. CTF 153’s role includes intercepting these threats and preventing attacks on commercial and military shipping.
- Asymmetrical Warfare Tactics: The Houthis employ asymmetrical warfare techniques that pose unique challenges. This includes the deployment of small, fast-moving boats capable of evading traditional naval defenses, and the use of UAVs for surveillance and attacks.
- Responding to UAV Threats: The use of UAVs by the Houthis necessitates sophisticated detection and neutralization systems. These aerial threats require rapid response mechanisms and advanced technology to be effectively countered.
- Agile and Adaptive Responses: Given the Houthis’ unconventional warfare tactics, CTF 153 needs to maintain a high degree of agility and adaptability in its operational strategies. This involves continual reassessment of threats and adjustment of tactics.
- Coordination and Intelligence: Effective response to these challenges requires coordinated efforts among the task force’s member nations. This coordination is facilitated by sharing intelligence and employing combined tactics to address the multifaceted nature of the threats.
- Balancing Deterrence and Engagement: One of the key challenges for CTF 153 is striking a balance between deterring Houthi actions and engaging directly when necessary. This involves making real-time decisions based on the nature and immediacy of the threats.
- Navigating Geopolitical Complexities: The involvement of Iran in supporting the Houthis adds a layer of geopolitical complexity. CTF 153’s operations are not just about countering physical threats but also involve navigating the broader regional political landscape.
The strategic importance of the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Aden cannot be overstated. These waterways are crucial conduits for global trade, including the transportation of oil and other vital commodities. The stability and security of these routes are, therefore, of paramount importance to the global economy.
CTF 153’s operations also highlight the broader geopolitical dynamics in the region, especially the ongoing conflict in Yemen and its spill-over effects on international maritime security. The task force’s activities serve not only to protect shipping lanes but also to project power and assert control over strategic maritime chokepoints.
International Coalition and Challenges
The absence of key Arab nations such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia from Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG) is a notable element in the context of regional security dynamics and the operation’s overall effectiveness. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both with significant stakes in Red Sea security, have not publicly joined the operation, despite their strategic interests in the region.
Egypt, which controls the Suez Canal, has a major stake in the security of Red Sea shipping lanes. The Suez Canal is a significant source of revenue for Egypt, bringing in about $9.5 billion in 2022-23. The stability of these maritime routes is crucial for Egypt’s economic interests. However, Egypt’s public non-participation in OPG raises questions about the operation’s comprehensive coverage of the Red Sea region and its chokepoints, such as the Bab al-Mandab Strait.
Saudi Arabia’s Position
Saudi Arabia, with a lengthy Red Sea coastline, has a vested interest in the region’s stability. However, its absence from OPG might be influenced by its efforts to end the conflict with the Houthis and to improve relations with regional rival Iran. Saudi Arabia’s participation in such an operation could be seen as an escalation in its ongoing conflict with the Houthis, potentially complicating peace efforts in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia’s Strategic Interests
- Conflict with the Houthis: Saudi Arabia has been involved in a protracted conflict with the Houthi rebels in Yemen for nearly nine years. This conflict has had significant implications for regional stability, particularly in the Red Sea area. Saudi Arabia’s engagement in this conflict is crucial, considering that it relies on Red Sea ports for a substantial portion of its imports.
- Efforts to End the Yemen Conflict: Saudi Arabia’s absence from OPG might be influenced by its broader strategic goal of ending the war in Yemen. Engaging directly in an operation like OPG could be perceived as an escalation in its ongoing conflict with the Houthis, potentially complicating any peace efforts.
- Relationship with Iran: The tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a significant aspect of regional dynamics. Saudi Arabia’s involvement in OPG could be seen as a direct confrontation with Iran, given that the Houthis are backed by Iran. Maintaining a delicate balance in its relationship with Iran is critical for Saudi Arabia’s long-term strategic interests.
Military Capabilities and Implications
Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities are significant in the context of regional security. The country possesses a U.S.-equipped military, including advanced air and naval capabilities.
- Air Superiority: Saudi Arabia has been investing in modernizing its air force, including the procurement of new Boeing F-15 combat aircraft. This investment ensures Saudi air superiority over potential regional adversaries and enhances interoperability with U.S. air forces.
- Naval Capabilities: The Saudi Navy is expanding its capabilities, crucial for defending coastal waters and addressing emerging threats in the region, including in the Red Sea area.
- Ground Forces: Saudi ground forces are capable of defending the kingdom against any external infiltration and raid, particularly along its southern borders and coastal areas.
- Missile Defense Systems: Saudi Arabia has upgraded its Patriot PAC 2 missile forces, improving air defense and beginning to build missile defense capabilities against growing regional missile threats.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to not publicly join OPG is a reflection of its complex geopolitical considerations, balancing its involvement in the Yemen conflict and relations with Iran. While its military capabilities are substantial and pivotal for regional security, its direct involvement in OPG could potentially escalate regional tensions and impact its strategic goals in Yemen and broader Middle East politics. The country’s focus remains on maintaining stability along its borders and ensuring the security of its maritime routes, particularly in the Red Sea.
- Regional Security: Saudi Arabia’s military strength is essential for its regional security, especially given the threats from Iran and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
- Interoperability with Allies: Saudi Arabia’s military equipment, largely procured from the United States and other Western countries, is designed to be interoperable with its allies, enhancing joint operational capabilities.
- Modernization and Procurement: Continuous modernization of its armed forces is a priority for Saudi Arabia, ensuring it maintains a qualitative edge in the region.
Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities represent a blend of advanced technology and substantial investment, making it a key player in Middle Eastern and Gulf regional security.
TABLE 2 – Saudi Arabia – Military Capabilities
Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities are among the most advanced in the Middle East, encompassing a range of high-tech equipment and platforms across its air, naval, and ground forces. Here’s a detailed breakdown of key elements of Saudi Arabia’s military arsenal:
- F-15 Fighters
- Models: Saudi Arabia operates various models of the F-15, including F-15C/D air superiority fighters and F-15S/SA advanced strike aircraft.
- Capabilities: Equipped with advanced radars, air-to-air missiles, and precision-guided munitions, these fighters are capable of performing air superiority and ground attack missions.
- Eurofighter Typhoon
- Number: Saudi Arabia has procured a substantial fleet of Eurofighter Typhoons.
- Role: Multi-role combat aircraft capable of air-to-air, air-to-ground, and reconnaissance missions.
- Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems
- Model: E-3 Sentry (AWACS) for surveillance, command, and control.
- Multi-Mission Surface Combatants
- Future Acquisition: Saudi Arabia has plans to acquire Multi-Mission Surface Combatants, which are similar to the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships.
- Patrol Boats
- Model and Number: The fleet includes a number of patrol boats for coastal defense and security operations.
- Main Battle Tanks
- Model: M1A2 Abrams, among the most advanced main battle tanks globally.
- Capabilities: Heavily armored, equipped with a powerful main gun, and advanced fire control systems.
- Models: A variety of self-propelled and towed artillery systems, including the M109 Paladin.
- Missile Defense Systems
- Patriot PAC-3 Missile Defense: Advanced missile defense system capable of intercepting incoming ballistic missiles.
- THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense): A key element in Saudi Arabia’s layered missile defense strategy, providing capability against short, medium, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
The Tactical and Strategic Dilemma
CTF 153 confronts a threefold military problem: establishing a defensive barrier against Houthi missile and drone attacks, preventing hijacking incidents like that of the Galaxy Leader, and ensuring mine clearance in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait. Despite their efforts, the CTF has been unable to fully prevent Houthi attacks, exposing limitations in resources and highlighting the strategic conundrum of dealing with non-state actors like the Houthis, who have threatened to escalate the conflict to include Saudi and UAE oil production.
This situation exemplifies the changing dynamics of modern warfare, where small states or non-state actors can effectively challenge superpowers through asymmetric warfare. The disparity in costs of offensive and defensive operations between the Houthis and the US Navy underscores this new reality. The potential failure of Operation Prosperity Guardian to secure its objectives not only questions the effectiveness of such missions but also casts doubt on the US’s ability to fulfill similar commitments globally, such as ensuring the openness of the Strait of Hormuz against Iranian threats.
The Role of US Foreign Policy
The US’s engagement in this conflict can be critiqued from a diplomatic perspective. A more proactive diplomatic approach, particularly by President Biden, could have potentially de-escalated the situation, highlighting the importance of diplomatic solutions over military interventions.
The Future of US Military Power
The current scenario raises questions about the future efficacy of traditional power projection tools like carrier battle groups. In an era where geopolitical dynamics are rapidly shifting, the US may need to reassess its military strategy, moving away from conventional force projection to more nuanced, multi-faceted approaches that consider the complexities of modern warfare and geopolitical relations.
Operation Prosperity Guardian represents a crucial test for the US’s military strategy in a changing world order. Its outcome will not only have immediate implications for regional stability in the Middle East but also for the broader perspective of US military effectiveness and diplomatic influence on the global stage. As the world watches, the success or failure of this operation will be a significant indicator of the evolving balance of power in the 21st century.