With its strategic prioritisation of the Indo-Pacific and European theatres, the United States has had to significantly adjust its defence posture in the Middle East through new concepts and procedures to safeguard collective security interests.
The result is at least the beginning of a more dynamic and flexible approach to military deployment in the US Central Command (CENTCOM)’s Area of Responsibility. Instead of emphasising large and permanent basing, the United States will surge assets and resources from other locations depending on threats and needs.
Early signs of execution of this dynamic force employment approach came in early July when in response to increased Iranian threats to the free flow of goods in Gulf waters, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the deployment of the USS Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit, F-35s, F-16s, and the USS Thomas Hudner guided missile destroyer.
Although the United States already had air and naval assets deployed in the area, the additional F-16s and F-35s came from Aviano Air Base in Italy and the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Hill Air Force Base in Utah, respectively.
Jump in.@USArmy Paratroopers from @173rdAbnBde & Dutch paratroopers perform re-jump training in Greece as part of Swift Response 23 at Aviano Air Base. Swift Response is one of 3 major exercises that make up the #DefenderEurope exercise for @NATO Deterrence & Enhanced Readiness. pic.twitter.com/MEW58LzdKl— Department of Defense(@DeptofDefense) May 18, 2023
None of this suggests that the United States has switched to a strategy of offshore balancing or that it is about to gradually give up its forward-deployed military presence in the Middle East. An effective posture that contributes to the missions of deterrence, reassurance, and security cooperation must have an element of forward deployment.
To deter Iran, the United States must have assets in theatre to affect the decision-making calculus of the leadership in Tehran and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
A forward-deployed presence provides US officials with options and allows CENTCOM to respond rapidly, if asked. That ability to intervene at a moment’s notice should, theoretically, make Tehran think twice before using violence to achieve its political aims.