USS Florida (SSGN-728) deployed to the Middle East this week after spending months in the Mediterranean Sea, the U.S. Navy said in a rare public announcement.
The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine entered the Suez Canal on Friday from the Mediterranean Sea bound for U.S. 5th Fleet, a Navy spokesperson told USNI News on Saturday.
“The submarine entered the region April 6 and began transiting the Suez Canal the following day,” spokesman Cmdr. Tim Hawkins said in a statement. “Florida is a nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine homeported in Kings Bay, Ga. It is capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles and is deployed to U.S. 5th Fleet to help ensure regional maritime security and stability.”
A photo released by the Navy shows the submarine on the surface and underway in the Suez Canal equipped with a dry shelter for the use of special operations underwater vehicles.
The rare public announcement follows Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s extension of the deployment of carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) following March attacks on U.S. forces in Syria that injured a dozen Americans and killed a contractor. The U.S. is also sending a squadron of Air Force A-10 Warthogs close air support aircraft to the Middle East.
The latest moves of U.S. forces come as Iran’s sectarian Revolutionary Guard Corps is planning drone attacks against Israeli merchant ships in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea in relation for Israeli air strikes on targets in Syria that killed two members of the IRGC, reported The New York Times on Saturday.
In November, the IRGC attacked the merchant oil tanker M/T Pacific Zircon Shahed-136 explosive attack drone, U.S. 5th Fleet said. In July, a similar drone killed two merchant mariners aboard the tanker Mercer Street. Both ships had ties to Israeli merchant shippers.
While most submarine operations are closely held secrets, the Pentagon has been known to highlight the presence of the SSGNs as a deterrent measure.
The quartet of Ohio-class submarines – retrofitted from their original role of carrying nuclear ballistic missiles to Tomahawks – have a unique presence mission for the Navy.
The 154 land-attack missiles aboard Florida have a range of in excess of 1,000 nautical miles and be launched from under the sea with little warning.
Florida has been operating extensively in the Mediterranean as a hedge against Russian activities in the region as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine continues, service officials have told USNI News.
U.S. European Command published photos of Florida pulling into Naples, Italy, in March and operating with Navy SEALs in February and sailing with the cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG-55) in November.
In the Pacific, the Navy has publicized the deployment of SSGN USS Michigan (SSGN-727) showing the submarine operating near Guam in March.
The Navy has had a reduced role in the Middle East since the 2021 end of the war in Afghanistan.
The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group was the last carrier to operate in the Middle East before departing in September of 2021. The Harry S. Truman CSG had intended to operate in the Middle East before the strike group was held in the Mediterranean for presence operations in reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials told USNI News at the time. The Bush CSG continued the trend and is expected to be relieved in May by the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group.
The last Navy-Marine Corps Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit deployment to the region – the ESSEX ARG and the 11th MEU – departed 5th Fleet in January 2022, according to USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker.