US sending F-16s to Middle East after naval incidents with Iran

The move comes days after the Air Force sent F-22s to the region.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon takes off April 1, 2020, at the 177th Fighter Wing, Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (Airman Hunter Hires / U.S. Air National Guard) A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon takes off April 1, 2020, at the 177th Fighter Wing, Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (Airman Hunter Hires/U.S. Air National Guard)

The United States is deploying additional aircraft to the Strait of Hormuz, days after an incident with the Iranian Navy.

An unspecified number of F-16 fighter jets are on their way to the Middle East over the weekend, according to the Associated Press, which cited a Department of Defense official on the news. The F-16s are meant to complement the A-10 Warthogs currently operating in the area and which have been flying patrols this past week. 

The additional aircraft will provide aerial cover for ships in the Strait and are also meant to be a deterrent, according to the Pentagon official. It’s not immediately clear how many F-16s are being sent over, or what unit they belong to. 

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The decision comes only a few days after an American guided missile destroyer chased away two ships from the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman. The Iranian ships made attempts to seize a pair of oil tankers moving through the waters. In one of the attempts, Iranian sailors opened fire on the tanker the Richmond Voyager with both small arms and “crew-served weapons,” according to the U.S. Navy, striking the hull of the vessel. They did not fire on the U.S. Navy ship.

There have been several encounters between American and Iranian ships in the waters in and around the Strait of Hormuz. Most of the incidents have involved the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. American vessels have also intercepted ships carrying weapons and explosive material en route from Iran to places such as Yemen in recent months. In May, the Navy’s 5th Fleet announced that it was increasing its activity in the Strait of Hormuz after two incidents in the spring where Iranian ships seized oil tankers.

In addition to naval trouble in the Middle East, the United States has been dealing with harassment from Russian fighter planes. The same day that an American MQ-9 Reaper drone killed an Islamic State commander in eastern Syria, the same drone was harassed by a Russian jet. Russian planes have also flown over American bases in the area, including an An-30 that traversed over the al-Tanf base in Syria; the Pentagon has called these surveillance flights. On Wednesday, the U.S. Air Force announced it had deployed F-22 Raptors from the  94th Fighter Squadron to the Middle East to act as a deterrent against future incidents. During the same interview with the Associated Press, the Pentagon official said that the military was exploring ways to address Russian actions over the past several months.

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