Reports suggest that the super carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and the guided missile cruiser USS Normandy are moving into position off the coast of Yemen in an attempt to interdict Iranian arms shipments intended to resupply Shiite Houthi rebels in that country.
If such a confrontation were to occur, the outcome would be unpredictable, not just concerning an actual encounter itself, but also in regards to what would result geopolitically because of it. In particular, the terminal phase of the already incredibly fragile P5+1 Iranian nuclear arms deal could easily be shattered and Iran’s response to such an act is unpredictable.
One thing is for certain, the movement of the aircraft carrier out of the Persian Gulf and into the Gulf of Aden is a very big and somewhat peculiar move. So far, the US has stayed out of the conflict between Shiite Houthi rebels and Sunni pro-government forces aside from providing aerial tanking, search and rescue and intelligence support, with the Sunni Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia providing the muscle. So, the use of a super carrier’s air wing in that conflict would signal a major escalation by the US.
Additionally, it does not take a super carrier to intercept some cargo ships. Maybe the Theodore Roosevelt was removed from the Persian Gulf in order to get it out of there should Iran try to shut down the Strait of Hormuz in reaction to an American-led seizure of a weapons shipment destined for Yemen. Such a move would leave the Roosevelt trapped and vulnerable in a fairly small body of water.
The Mandeb Strait is another choke point located off the southwest coast of Yemen that could shut down shipping between Europe and Asia, a vulnerability detailed in this recent Foxtrot Alpha feature. That territory is now largely controlled by Iranian backed Houthi rebels, and an aircraft carrier’s air wing could provide the constant over-watch and precision air support required to keep that strategic channel open should Iranian proxies try to close it.
The truth is that all of these circumstances are volatile to security situation in the region and are highly detrimental to the chances of reaching a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. To top it off, the Military Times reports that there is an Iranian convoy of ships being tracked heading to the area and that the Navy is prepared to do whatever it takes stop Iranian arms from reaching the Yemeni coastline.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com