Reshaping Maritime Security and Defense Capabilities in Eastern Mediterranean


By Robbin Laird

The Abraham Accords set in motion enhanced maritime security and defense capabilities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The UAE, Bahrain, the U.S. and Israel cooperated in a five day exercise in the Red Sea to reinforce defense and security relationships in the maritime domain,.

Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of NAVCENT, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, said: “It is exciting to see U.S. forces training with regional partners to enhance our collective maritime security capabilities. Maritime collaboration helps safeguard freedom of navigation and the free flow of trade, which are essential to regional security and stability.”

Last week, Israeli Air Force F-15s escorted two US B-1B strategic heavy bombers and a KC-10 refueler over Israeli airspace on their way to the Gulf.

It was the second such flight in two weeks.

According to an IDF statement, it was “a significant step in maintaining the security of the skies of the State of Israel and the Middle East”.

Last month, the IDF held their Blue Flag exercise with seven other air forces, including the USAF, the RAF and other European partners, which including Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

As one source noted: “More joint military exercises among Abraham Accord partners are also anticipated in the future.”

The U.S. Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain.

During my two visits to Bahrain in 2019, I had a chance to talk about the evolving defense and security capabilities being reshaped in the region and in October 2019 provided a presentation on the final day of the BIDEC 2019 Conference.

One of the subjects which I raised during my presentation was the coming of maritime autonomous systems and the value to Bahrain of such systems,.

Significant investments are being made in Bahrain in science and technology, and applications to he maritime autonomous systems domain make a great deal of sense.

Also, the ISR capabilities which such systems can provide to Bahrain as a pillar for their evolving information base for security and defense also make a great deal of sense as well.

In a September 23, 2021 press release by NAVCENT, the cooperation between the U.S. Navy and Bahrain in this domain was highlighted.

BAHRAIN – During a visit to the U.S. Navy installation in Bahrain, Sept. 23, Bahraini leaders committed to partnering with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) to accelerate integration of new unmanned systems into regional maritime operations.

Major Gen. Ala Abdulla Seyadi, commander of the Bahrain Coast Guard; Rear Adm. Mohammed Yousif Al Asam, commander of the Royal Bahrain Naval Force; and Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of NAVCENT, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces discussed future opportunities for cooperation.

“We have an enduring strategic relationship with the Kingdom of Bahrain and our mutual commitment to advancing new unmanned systems demonstrates us strengthening the partnership in a new way,” said Cooper. “This initiative enables us to expand maritime domain awareness on, above and below the water and enhance regional deterrence.”

NAVCENT commissioned Task Force 59, Sept. 9, to rapidly integrate unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into U.S. 5th Fleet operations and drive discovery in human-machine teaming technologies.

Cooper briefed the Bahraini leaders on NAVCENT’s latest unmanned surface, underwater and aerial vehicles on site at U.S. Naval Support Activity Bahrain.

In October, Bahrain’s maritime forces will be the first regional partners to collaborate with Task Force 59 on a manned-unmanned teaming exercise to evaluate advanced unmanned surface vessels. The at-sea event will kick off a series of maritime exercises that integrate manned and unmanned systems during operations with regional and coalition partners.

The Middle East region’s unique geography, climate, and strategic importance offer an ideal environment for unmanned innovation. The area includes the world’s largest standing maritime partnership and three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab-al-Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.

And in October 26, 2021 update from U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, the evolving work in the region with allies with regard to maritime autonomous systems was provided:

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command is leading the way as the Navy tests out new operational concepts for unmanned surface vessels in front-line operations. On Monday, NAVCENT completed exercise New Horizon, the first at-sea trial for its new unmanned task force, which is among the first Navy units to integrate USV technology into real-world service – in this case, ensuring maritime security in the Persian Gulf. 

During the two-day training exercise, the command’s newly-established Task Force 59 tested out its MANTAS T-12 USVs alongside U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Bahrain Defense Force manned vessels. It was the first time that NAVCENT has integrated USVs with manned assets at sea in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. 

The first phase of New Horizon, conducted Oct. 20, saw operators controlling the USVs aboard the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Firebolt, while the small surfboard-shaped vessels conducted high-speed maneuvers in formation. Participating units included the cutter USCGC Maui, a Seahawk helicopter, a V-BAT unmanned aerial vehicle and a Royal Bahrain Naval Force patrol craft. Both U.S. and Bahraini forces practiced operating the vessels in formation.

“This is a significant milestone for our new task force as we accelerate the integration of unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into complex, cross-domain operations at sea,” said Capt. Michael Brasseur, commander of Task Force 59. “Real-world evaluation is essential.”

NAVCENT established the task force on September 8, and it is the first unit of its kind in the Navy. Extended unmanned trials are key to the service’s push to figure out how to use (and sustain) these systems in the real world. In the years ahead, the Navy hopes to deploy full-size, oceangoing unmanned warships to augment the fleet’s lethality at low cost. In order to get there, the Navy’s leadership is well aware that it will have to work out several thorny technical problems – particularly comms, command and control, and keeping propulsion running – and operations like Task Force 59 will help with the practical shakedown process.

Featured Photo: Old and new: the 1986-built RBNS Abdul Rahman Al-Fadel, background, and a Mantas T-12 (5th Fleet)