Photo Credit:
The Maersk Tigris

That will alarm many nations.  And an America that merely escorts our own flagged ships will be less and less attractive as a leader or even an ally.  Amplifying that trend will be the fact that we could run out of assets far sooner than most Americans imagine.

We’re skint


The Navy won’t be running convoys through the strait, or pulling literal “escort” duty.  It appears that the Navy will be on-call to monitor Iranian activity in the strait while U.S.-flagged ships are in transit, a posture that can be ramped up to dedicated escort at need, but without naval escort being imposed on U.S. merchant ships as a routine condition of passage (something the president has authority to do).

The profile of operations is thus as open-ended as the timeframe for the requirement.  The best way to put it is to say we’ll be having to keep a duty warship in the SOH for escort contingencies.

But Iran can play this game much more cheaply than we can.  Iran has only to outgun single merchant ships, at times of her choosing.

We have to be ready at any time to outgun, outmaneuver, and face down everything Iran can deploy from her nearby shore: war planes, missiles, small boat swarms, submarines, mini-subs, mines.  Capable as our escort ships are, this is not a job for a single destroyer or cruiser, if Iran becomes seriously aggressive.  It’s certainly not a job for a minesweeper or a Cyclone-class patrol craft (PC), which together represent six of the ships available for the task.

And if we have to use the aircraft carrier to give our escort ships enough of an edge, we then face a serious question about policy and misallocation of assets.  The carrier wouldn’t be a comfortable solution in any case.  But there’s also the problem, with the carrier and all the other ships, that we don’t have enough of them to enforce an escort regime, against Iran’s wishes.  Such enforcement involves not just assets but time.  We have to be able to keep doing it.