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US Navy sets up Gulf drone task force amid Iran tensions

A US military MQ-9B Reaper drone at a US Army testing site, Yuma, Arizona, on November 7, 2019. (US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Colton Brownlee)
A US military MQ-9B Reaper drone at a US Army testing site, Yuma, Arizona, on November 7, 2019. (US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Colton Brownlee)

The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet says that it has launched a new task force in the Gulf incorporating drones and artificial intelligence following maritime attacks blamed on Iran.

A statement by the US Naval Forces Central Command, or NAVCENT, says that the task force will rely on regional and coalition partnerships.

“The bottom line on why we’re doing this is so that we can develop and integrate unmanned systems and AI as a means to do two things,” NAVCENT commander Brad Cooper says. “One, enhance our maritime domain awareness, and two, increase deterrence.”

Since February, Iran and Israel have been engaged in what analysts have called a “shadow war,” in which vessels linked to each nation have come under attack in waters around the Gulf in tit-for-tat exchanges.

US Navy spokesman Tim Hawkins tells AFP that the task force is “dedicated to rapidly integrate unmanned systems and artificial intelligence with maritime operations in the Fifth Fleet region.”

“When we talk about the integration of new unmanned systems, we’re talking about systems that can be used under, on and above the water,” he says.

The Fifth Fleet is based in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain.

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