The U.S. Navy’s top command in the Middle East is set to stand up a new task force specifically to manage the use of the service’s unmanned platforms across the region. This will include drones in the air, as well as unmanned surface vessels and unmanned underwater vehicles, or USVs and UUVs. The Navy hopes to use this force to improve its overall regional situational awareness, especially with regards to the activities of Iran and its proxies, among other missions, as well as just provide an operationally representative space to explore various new concepts of operations.
The Associated Press was among the first to report on the planned establishment of this new unmanned force earlier today. Navy Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, head of both 5th Fleet and Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), which are often referred to collectively as 5th Fleet/NAVCENT, offered some additional details about the unit, which is expected to be called Task Force 59.
The Navy’s numbered fleets are typically broken into different standing task forces responsible for overseeing the employment of different types of capabilities. At present, 5th Fleet/NAVCENT, which has its headquarters in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf, has nine such task forces. These include Task Force 50 and 51, which are responsible for managing the activities of carrier and expeditionary strike groups deployed to the region. Task Forces 52, 53, 54, and 55 handle mine warfare, logistics, submarine warfare, and surface warfare operations, respectively. Task Force 56, or the fleet’s Expeditionary Combat Forces, oversees a variety of specialized capabilities, including explosive ordnance disposal and mobile construction units. Task Force 57 is the maritime patrol aircraft element within 5th Fleet/NAVCENT. Lastly, there is Task Force Shore Battlespace, which “coordinates all facility and security support for shore installations in the AOR [area of responsibility],” according to the fleet’s website.
5th Fleet/NAVCENT had previously used Task Force 59 as a designation for temporary contingents assembled in response to regional contingencies. For instance, in 2006, an earlier Task Force 59 had been activated to help with the evacuation of Americans from Lebanon after a major conflict broke out that year between the militant group Hezbollah and Israel.
Now, the new Task Force 59 will shift its attention to unmanned operations. “We want to put more systems out in the maritime domain above, on and below the sea,” Vice Admiral Cooper said, according to The Associated Press. “We want more eyes on what’s happening out there.”
The Associated Press reported that the Navy did not specify what unmanned systems would fall under the task force’s auspices. However, the outlet also said that it was its understanding that the full array of platforms would include some of those that the service had demonstrated during a huge unmanned-focused exercise, dubbed Unmanned Integrated Battle Problem 21, or UxS IBP 21, that was held off the coast of California earlier this year.