The Boxer leads the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which also includes the amphibious transport dock USS John P. Murtha and the amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry, US Central Command noted in a Monday statement. The ships are replacing like vessels led by the USS Kearsarge, which had been in the theater since April but has now rotated out.
The US Fifth Fleet’s area of responsibility includes sea lanes that could soon become a major war zone - namely, the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.
While all three ships are capable of dispatching landing vessels full of US Marines and their equipment, the Boxer is also an aircraft carrier of sorts. The Wasp-class vessel carries up to 20 aircraft of various types, including attack and transport helicopters and AV-8B Harrier II strike aircraft, and can even launch Sea Sparrow anti-ship missiles.
Capt. Brad Arthur, who commands the Boxer’s air squadron, said in a statement that his crews were “prepared to respond to any crises across the range of military operations,” which could include a potential conflict with Iran, although CENTCOM was nonspecific as to what the Boxer’s responsibilities in the region would be.
“Our training and preparation to enter the 5th Fleet area of operations has all been designed to ensure we can be ready where it matters, when it matters,” Marine Col. Fridrik Fridriksson, the group’s Marine unit commander, said in a statement.
The Boxer’s strike group joins the battle group of the USS Abraham Lincoln, a much larger aircraft carrier that arrived in the region last month, along with the amphibious landing dock USS San Antonio and several warships capable of executing deep airstrikes on Iran. Unlike the Boxer, the Lincoln was dispatched to the region explicitly to deter suspected planned Iranian attacks on US forces in the region, according to the Pentagon.
The Boxer, Murtha and Harpers Ferry set sail from San Diego on May 1. On June 7, the group joined the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle near the Andaman Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean, and on June 11, Murtha was reported by The Hindu as departing the Indian port of Visakhapatnam, on the Bay of Bengal.
India’s aircraft carrier, INS Vikramiditya, is also deployed in the Arabian Sea, Sputnik reported, to ensure the safety of Indian ships in the region in case bullets and missiles start flying between the US and Iran and their respective allies.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander-in-chief Hossein Salami has made clear amid the rising tensions that Iran’s anti-ship missiles are capable of hitting “with great precision carriers at sea,” Sputnik reported.