On December 21, 2020, the Guided Missile Submarine USS Georgia transited the Straights of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf accompanied by the Guided Missile Cruisers USS Philippine Sea and Port Royal. It is likely that at least one, possibly two, submerged attack submarines also transited the straights.
This is a significant force increase for the Navy in the region. It comes as three aircraft carriers, the USS Nimitz, USS Theodore Roosevelt, and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower are also deployed in the Pacific and Indian oceans.
The Georgia transiting on the surface of the straits sends a clear message to Iran.
Pundits are divided about what that message might be. I think there are two messages.
Firstly, it is fairly routine for the U.S. military to lean into potential adversaries whenever there is a change in presidents. This is to signal that America maintains its decisiveness, in terms of leadership, during these power transitions. Iran is certainly not a fan of President Trump. His expected departure in January may prompt Iran to take some action against our allies, tankers, or other targets to try and set the agenda for incoming President Biden.
Secondly, January 3 marks the first anniversary of the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani. Iran has vowed to avenge his death. A change of U.S. administrations could be seen as an opportune time for retaliation by Iran that could think a new president will not retaliate immediately and decisively.
This is exactly what USS Georgia, Philippine Sea and Port Royal represent: the ability to retaliate quickly and decisively. And it’s all about their weapons systems.
The USS Georgia carries 154 Tomahawk Cruise missiles that it can fire from 22 launch tubes. The vessel can salvo all 154 missiles in a very short time as the old Trident Missile silos on the Georgia can hold seven Tomahawks at a time. The two guided-missile cruisers can carry up to 122 Tomahawks each. Add them together and these three ships can deliver one Hell of a Sunday punch in under an hour. A total launch of nearly 400 guided missiles would overwhelm Iranian missile defenses. And the low flying, terrain-following Tomahawk is not an easy missile to shoot down.
Additionally, these Aegis radar-equipped cruisers can launch their missiles while, simultaneously, being able to defend themselves from any attack by land, sea, or air at the same time. Certainly, part of this task force would be one or more attack submarines to interdict any threat to the cruisers or USS Georgia by Iran’s diesel submarines should they sortie from their home ports.
Therefore, the message to Iran, should it decide to avenge the death of Soleimani or test an incoming administration, is 400 cruise missiles in the air at once.
The Georgia is also equipped with berths for up to 66 SOF personnel at a time. The two missile tubes up forward were converted into lock-out chambers to permit clandestine deployment and recovery of Navy SEALs and their equipment along with a Dry Deck Shelter for extra gear. A powerful communications suite rounds out its SOF capability allowing the Georgia to function as a Combatant Joint Command Center. The threat of Navy SEALS seizing and destroying Iran’s offshore oil platforms or entering harbors to place limpet mines on its vessels will keep Iranian port facilities and rigs on high alert for weeks on end.
An important role of the U.S. Navy is deterring threats from potential adversaries and Iran is certainly one. This latest move by the Navy ought to get Iran’s attention which will bluster, huff, and have a reason to pause.
Nevertheless, during this presidential transition, we haven’t deployed ships just to the Persian Gulf. In November the navy conducted joint operations with the navies of India, Australia, Japan in a clear message to China about our ability to not only project power in the Pacific but to demonstrate that we do not stand alone in checking China’s expansionist aims in the South China Sea.