US Defence Secretary Austin Lloyd announced on October 14 that the nuclear-powered USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group (CSG) has been directed to move to the Eastern Mediterranean – right next to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the militant organisation Hamas.
Describing the move as part of the US effort to ‘deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war following Hamas’s attack on Israel’, the statement noted that the Eisenhower CSG will join the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group, which arrived earlier this week in the region. USS Gerard R. Ford is the US Navy’s newest and most advanced aircraft carrier yet. To understand this deployment, we explain what the conflict looks like right now and what the US rationale behind sending the carriers is.
What has happened in the Israel-Hamas conflict so far?
As of October 13, Israel seems likely to launch a ground invasion of Gaza in a bid to destroy Hamas. Israel has told the 1.1 million people living in the north of the tiny Palestinian enclave to evacuate within 24 hours and deployed tens of thousands of troops, tanks, and artillery on the edge of the territory.
This has occurred even as other kinds of offensives have been carried out in Gaza in retribution for the day (October 7) Hamas suddenly attacked Israel – leading to the death of more than 1,400 Israelis in the worst terror attack the country has ever seen.
Israel has since been bombarding Gaza, striking the militant group’s hideouts and other infrastructure. Till October 13, it had dropped more than 6,000 bombs on the enclave. So far, at least 2,215 Palestinians have been killed and 8,714 wounded due to the air strikes.
Meanwhile, Israel has also seen criticism, including from independent experts working with the United Nations, for the scale of its attacks.
‘We strongly condemn the horrific crimes committed by Hamas, the deliberate and widespread killing and hostage-taking of innocent civilians, including older persons and children. These actions constitute heinous violations of international law and international crimes, for which there must be urgent accountability,’ the UN experts said.
‘We also strongly condemn Israel’s indiscriminate military attacks against the already exhausted Palestinian people of Gaza, comprising over 2.3 million people, nearly half of whom are children. They have lived under unlawful blockade for 16 years, and already gone through five major brutal wars, which remain unaccounted for,’ they said.
Palestinians gather at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip October 15, 2023. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)
‘This amounts to collective punishment… There is no justification for violence that indiscriminately targets innocent civilians, whether by Hamas or Israeli forces. This is absolutely prohibited under international law and amounts to a war crime,’ the experts added.
Why has the US deployed its carriers close to the Israel-Hamas conflict?
In this scenario, the US has said that having two carriers in the region can provide a host of options. And while ‘There is no intention or plan to put American troops on the ground in Israel,’ according to John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator for the National Security Council, the presence of carriers can reiterate American support for its longtime ally Israel to others in the region.
It would ‘act as a deterrent for any other actor, including Hezbollah, that might think that widening this conflict is a good idea,’ Kirby said. There are indications that if the Iran-backed group Hezbollah decides to join the conflict on a full-scale level, it could draw other regional powers in.
What is the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CSG and what are its capabilities?
An Associated Press report said of the CSG: ‘They can disperse and serve as primary command and control operations centers, to cover a wide swath of area. They can conduct information warfare. They can launch and recover E2-Hawkeye surveillance planes that provide early warnings on missile launches, conduct surveillance and manage the airspace. Both ships carry F-18 fighter jets that could fly intercepts or strike targets.’
They also have significant capabilities for humanitarian work, including an onboard hospital with medics, surgeons and doctors, and they sail with helicopters that can be used to airlift critical supplies in or victims out, the report added.
It is a Nimitz class carrier, which denotes an older class of US Navy carriers named after the World War 2 Commander in Chief of the US Pacific Fleet, Chester Nimitz. The Nimitz and the newer Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers are the largest warships in the world, each designed for an approximately 50-year service life with just a single mid-life refuelling.
On the US Navy’s website, USS Eisenhower has been described as the ‘Navy’s finest 5-star aircraft carrier’ which provides ‘a wide range of flexible mission capabilities’. These include maritime security operations, expeditionary power projection, forward naval presence, crisis response, sea control, deterrence, counter-terrorism, information operations, security cooperation and counter-proliferation. It is an aircraft carrier – which typically has various aircraft and onboard defence systems onboard. A standard US CSG comprises a cruiser, at least two destroyers, and a supply ship.
The Strike Group deployed now includes the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), guided-missile destroyers USS Gravely (DDG 107) and USS Mason (DDG 87), and Carrier Air Wing 3, with nine aircraft squadrons, and embarked headquarters staffs.
And what are the Ford CSG’s capabilities?
The Ford CSG includes the USS Normandy, USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney, and USS Roosevelt. Earlier in the week, the U.S. Air Force announced deployment to the region of squadrons of F-15, F-16 and A-10 fighter aircraft. For more, you can click here to read our earlier explainer on the Ford CSG.