Recently, the U.S. Navy deployed remotely operated submersible mine-clearing vehicles, or SeaFox devices, to the Persian Gulf to upgrade the Avenger-class mine countermeasure (MCM) ships in the region. The SeaFox is a one-shot mine disposal vehicle capable of destroying moored mines at varying depths with a shaped charge warhead. These MCM assets, combined with other U.S. military reinforcements sent to the region in recent months, send a strong signal to Iran that the United States considers the free navigation of the Strait of Hormuz a national interest.
Upgrading the Avenger-class MCM ships with the SeaFox devices (each worth about $100,000) has been in development since the beginning of 2012. The Navy bought dozens of SeaFox devices in February at the request of U.S. Central Command Gen. James Mattis to increase its minesweeping capabilities in the Middle Eastern region. Lockheed Martin Corp. and Atlas North America collaborated to supply the SeaFox systems that will equip three Avenger-class MCM craft and six MH-53E Sea Dragon MCM helicopters.
Four Avenger-class ships arrived in the Persian Gulf on June 25 to reinforce four other Avenger-class ships and four British minesweepers. The USS Ponce was quickly refurbished into an Afloat Forward Staging Base and arrived in Bahrain on July 5. Four additional MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters also arrived in the region to reinforce the four MH-53Es already there. The SeaFox systems upgrade the U.S. Avenger-class vessels' MCM capabilities and are yet another tool among the many used by the vessels, such as the AN/SLQ-48(V) Mine Neutralization System and the AN/SQL-37(V)3 Magnetic/Acoustic Influence Minesweeping Gear.
These reinforcements have greatly expanded the United States' ability to react to and combat any attempt by Iran to engage in mine warfare in order to close the Strait of Hormuz. However, the United States' increased military presence has not hampered Iran's ability to influence oil markets with threats of closing the strait. It also has not affected Iran's unwillingness to follow through on such threats. But if the United States can prepare for a conflict in the Strait of Hormuz and convince Iran that it will risk a military strike in the event of failed negotiations, then Washington has a better chance of strengthening its negotiating position with Tehran.