PUBLISHED: 07:50 EST, 9 April 2012 | UPDATED: 09:35 EST, 9 April 2012
The U.S. Navy says it has deployed a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf amid rising tensions with Iran over its nuclear program.
Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost of the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said on Monday that the deployment of the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise along the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group marks only the fourth time in the past decade that the Navy has had two aircraft carriers operating at the same time in the region.
Derrick-Frost says the two carriers will support the American military operations in Afghanistan and anti-piracy efforts off Somalia’s coast and in the Gulf of Aden.
The battleships will also patrol the Gulf’s strategic oil routes that Iran has threatened to shut down in retaliation for economic sanctions.
The deployment of the second aircraft carrier is ‘routine and not specific to any threat,’ Derrick-Frost added. She did say how long the Navy will keep the increased military presence in region.
It was in June 2010 that the U.S. had two carriers operating in the region. Before then, the carriers were deployed in March 2003 during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and in February 2007 in support of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Enterprise is based in Norfolk, Va. It is the Navy’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that is now on its last mission.
The Enterprise was commissioned in November 1961 and is scheduled to be deactivated this fall.
In mid-February the US Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier passed through the Strait of Hormuz by Tehran closely shadowed by Iranian patrol boats and aircraft.
The small but important strait, jointly controlled by Iran and Oman, is only about 30miles across at its narrowest point.
Two American warships, one in front and one in the rear, escorted the Abraham Lincoln on its midday journey through the strait and into the Arabian Sea after nearly three weeks in the Gulf, an area which is frequently visited by U.S. warships and includes the headquarters of the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain.
Iranian forces paid full attention to the carrier as it made its passage with gunners in red jerseys manned the 50-caliber machine guns as the ships moved out of the Gulf. An Iranian patrol boat pulled nearby.
Rear Admiral Troy Shoemaker, commander of the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Force said the U.S would be similarly cautious.
‘We would do the same things off the coast of the United States… It’s more than reasonable. We’re operating in their backyard. We’ve been doing it for years,’ he said.
Several U.S. choppers flanked the carrier group throughout the transit, watching out for potentially hostile vessels and relaying real-time pictures back to the Lincoln’s crew.
The last time an American carrier left the Gulf – the USS John C Stennis in late December – Iran’s army chief warned the U.S. it should never return.
The Abraham Lincoln was the centrepiece of a flotilla that entered the Gulf in January along with British and French warships in a display of Western unity against Iranian threats
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has said it plans its own naval exercises near the strait, the route for a fifth of the world’s oil supply, but Iran’s military has made no attempts to disrupt oil tanker traffic.
The U.S. and allies fear Iran’s uranium enrichment program could eventually lead to the production of weapons-grade nuclear material. Iran claims it only seeks reactors for energy and medical research.