Spain has temporarily withdrawn its frigate, SPS Méndez Núñez (F-104), from the U.S. Navy’s USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group (ABECSG) amid rising US-Iranian tensions.
The withdrawal of the Alvaro de Bazan-class frigate, with 215 sailors on board, was ordered by the Spanish Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles. The decision was reportedly taken by Robles in Brussels during the May 13 meeting of European Union (EU) defence ministers.
The withdrawal decision follows the diversion of the American carrier strike group from a pre-planned deployment in response to alleged Iranian threats. With the withdrawal, it seems Spain doesn’t want to be involuntarily dragged into a conflict with Iran. According to reports, the Spanish frigate will rejoin the carrier strike group as it recommences the earlier planned deployment.
The integration of Méndez Núñez into the US carrier strike group was planned at least a year ago to improve interoperability and joint training between the U.S. Navy and the Spanish Navy. During its integration in the American combat group, Spain cedes the operational control of the frigate to the American admiral, although always under the strict rules of engagement, reported Spanish newspaper El País.
Méndez Núñez was the only non-US vessel in the ABECSG during the current deployment. The initially planned deployment was to last six months, from the end of April until October 31, when the strike group was scheduled to arrive at the U.S. Navy’s Naval Base San Diego, after crossing the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, the China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. The Spanish vessel was then scheduled to return to Spain completing global circumnavigation.
But the situation changed due to rising tensions between United States and Iran. The US, in multiple official statements, has stated that it have seen “indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and our interests”.
In response to the alleged threats, the US has initially announced deployment of its Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group (ABECSG) and a U.S. Air Force bomber task force in the Middle East/U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) region.
Following the announcement, ABECSG, which been conducting operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet (European theater) area of operations for several weeks, expedited their transit to the CENTCOM region diverting from the pre-planned deployment schedule. On May 9, the group had sailed through the Suez Canal. The fleet has already crossed the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, which links the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, and is heading for the Strait of Hormuz.
The ABECSG strike group is led by the U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) with embarked Carrier Air Wing Seven (CVW 7). In addition to the Spanish frigate, the group consisted of Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55), and Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers from Destroyer Squadron Two (DESRON 2) – USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), USS Mason (DDG 87) and USS Nitze (DDG 94).
The Bomber Task Force (BTF) includes U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress strategic bombers, assigned to 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron based at Barksdale Air Force Base. The bombers arrived at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar on May 8.
Later it was announced that USS Arlington (LPD-24) and a Patriot battery will be be joining these assets in the region.
USS Arlington is a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock (LPD) operated by the U.S. Navy that transports U.S. Marines, amphibious vehicles, conventional landing craft and rotary aircraft with the capability to support amphibious assault, special operations, or expeditionary warfare missions. USS Arlington also provides a high quality command and control capability and improved interoperability with our allies and partners in the region.
A Patriot battery is a long-range, all-weather air defense system to counter tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs), cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.