The U.S. Navy will be bolstering its security operations in the Middle East by strengthening partnerships and accelerating technological innovation, according to one of its top commanders.
Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain, during a press briefing last week explained that the navy will use unmanned vessels and artificial intelligence (AI) technology to boost its overall capabilities in these areas.
“Integrating new unmanned systems with artificial intelligence puts more eyes out on the water that we simply had not had in the past,” said Cooper.
Cooper leads the U.S. Fleet and 5th Fleet headquarters, as well as two other international partnerships – Combined Maritime Forces and International Maritime Security Construct – which are all located in Bahrain, a vital Middle Eastern ally for the United States.
“We are doing this in lockstep with our regional partners. We established operating hubs for our unmanned systems here in Bahrain and also in Aqaba, Jordan last year. And then in February of this year, we conducted the largest unmanned maritime exercise in the world, where 10 nations brought more than 80 unmanned systems to evaluate and operate them in regional waters.”
In addition, Cooper said the U.S. Navy has conducted multiple joint exercises with many regional navies and nations, including a 10-day bilateral training exercise with Bahrain involving unmanned systems.
Unmanned systems, also known as drones, can stay out at sea for more than 100 days with no fuel requirements and or maintenance, whereas a crewed ship cannot be at sea that long without logistical support.
The combination of these unmanned systems with artificial intelligence makes it possible for the U.S. Navy to detect smuggling and other malign activities better and faster, and thereby uphold regional maritime security.
Cooper made it clear that a global “unmanned technological revolution” is about to unfold and called for regional navies “to work together more closely.”
The unmanned systems contribute to security ”by sending the information that they detect either by radar or by camera using artificial intelligence back to a command center, where a human being decides what to do,” explained Cooper. ”And so we’re excited about this and we’re working with just about every regional partner who is also excited about this. And I think there’s tremendous opportunity as we go forward.”
The U.S. Navy’s goal, with cooperation from U.S. regional partners, is to place 100 advanced unmanned surface vessels into navy fleets across Middle East waters by the summer of 2023.
Cooper specifically emphasized the importance of U.S. military cooperation with Bahrain, a theme that was repeated by Bahraini leaders during the latest Delegation of Evangelical Business and Media leaders led by ALL ARAB NEWS Editor-in-Chief Joel Rosenberg three weeks ago.
“None of what we do here at our headquarters is possible without the leadership and support of the government of Bahrain,” Cooper said. “So for all the leaders who’ve supported us in this decades-long strategic relationship, we’re grateful.”
Cooper said that Bahrain will take command of Combined Task Force 152 this summer – a working team which consists of GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries – in order to patrol the Arabian Gulf. The GCC is a political and economic alliance of six Middle Eastern countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
“Just to give you an example of just how deep the relationship is,” continued Cooper, “we actually are today conducting an exercise with the Bahrainis over a 10-day period called Neon Defender, which is bilateral in nature that has a whole series of components to it where we focus on maritime security, installation security, airfield repair, medical response, explosive ordnance disposal and surface naval exercises.”
At the press briefing, Cooper also stressed that the U.S. Navy “remains highly engaged and deeply committed” to the Middle East. U.S. commitment to Gulf allies has come into question following the U.S. debacle in Afghanistan last August and the widespread perception that U.S. President Joe Biden has chosen to follow a policy of deprioritizing the Middle East in favor of a more one-sided focus on the Indo-Pacific and the rivalry with China.