US Extends Military Firepower Support to Israel, Defence Secretary Austin in Israel to Meet Israeli Leaders

Foreign Affairs

Washington: Within hours of the horrific attack by Hamas, the US began moving warships and aircraft to the region to be ready to provide Israel with whatever it needs to respond.

A second US carrier strike group departs from Norfolk, Virginia, on October 13. Scores of aircraft are heading to US military bases around the Middle East. Special operations forces are now assisting Israel’s military in planning and intelligence. The first shipment of additional munitions has already arrived.

More is expected, soon. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will arrive in Israel October 13 to meet with Israeli leaders to discuss what else the US can provide.

For now, the build-up reflects US concern that the deadly fighting between Hamas and Israel could escalate into a more dangerous regional conflict. So the primary mission for those ships and warplanes is to establish a force presence that deters Hezbollah, Iran or others from taking advantage of the situation. But the forces the US sends are capable of more than that.

The US is providing some personnel and much-needed munitions to Israel. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that a small special operations cell was now assisting Israel with intelligence and planning, and providing advice and consultations to the Israeli Defence Forces on hostage recovery efforts. However those forces have not been tasked with hostage rescue, which would put them on the ground fighting in the conflict. That’s something the Biden administration has not approved and White House spokesman John Kirby has said the Israelis do not want.

The US is also getting US defence companies to expedite weapons orders by Israel that were already on the books. Chief among those are munitions for Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system.

“We’re surging additional military assistance, including ammunition and interceptors to replenish Iron Dome,” President Joe Biden said. “We’re going to make sure that Israel does not run out of these critical assets to defend its cities and its citizens.”

Iron Dome’s missiles target rockets that approach its cities. According to Raytheon, Israel has 10 such systems in place.  Hamas has fired more than 5,000 rockets at Israel, most of which the system has been able to intercept, according to the Israel Defence Forces.

The Iron Dome munitions the US. provides to Israel will likely be above and beyond what Israel has ordered and will be part of ongoing military assistance packages. Those packages will also include small diameter bombs and JDAM kits — essentially a tail fin and navigation kit that turns a “dumb” bomb into a “smart” bomb and enables troops to guide the munition to a target, rather than simply dropping it.

One of the most visible examples of the US response was the announcement by the Pentagon to redirect the Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group to sail toward Israel. The carrier had just completed an exercise with the Italian Navy when the ship and its crew of about 5,000 were ordered to quickly sail to the Eastern Mediterranean.

The carrier provides a host of options. It’s a primary command and control operations centre and can conduct information warfare. It can launch and recover E2-Hawkeye surveillance planes, recognized by their 24-foot (7-meter) diameter disc-shaped radar. The planes provide early warnings on missile launches, conduct surveillance and manage the airspace, detecting not only enemy aircraft but also directing US movements.

On October 13, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group will leave its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, and sail for the Mediterranean, potentially doubling the Navy’s Israel response.

The Eisenhower had already been scheduled to deploy to the Mediterranean on a regular rotation, and the Ford is near the end of its deployment. But the Biden administration may decide to extend the Ford’s deployment and keep both strike groups out there, White House spokesman John Kirby said.

The Pentagon has also ordered additional warplanes to bolster existing squadrons of A-10, F-15 and F-16 squadrons at bases throughout the Middle East and is ready to add more if needed.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said  the service was doubling up by directing units that were about to come home to remain in place and stay there along with their replacements.

The US Air Force already has significant airpower in the region to conduct manned and unmanned operations, most notably in Syria where an Air Force F-16 last week was ordered to shoot down a Turkish drone that was posing a threat to US ground forces operating there.

Kendall also said US Air Force C-17s have landed in and departed from Israel since the attacks. The transport planes were picking up US military personnel who were there for a military exercise that hadn’t started yet when the attacks began, the Air Force said in a statement.

Neither the Air Force nor Central Command would comment on what additional missions US airpower might take on in response to the conflict.