U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group
The New York Times reports today on a recent Defense Department simulation of the immediate aftermath of Israel unilaterally bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. The key assumption? The Iranians will necessarily conclude that the attack was coordinated with and assisted by the United States, and retaliate against U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf. Given the huge distance Israeli aircraft will have to fly to strike Iran, it will be a reasonable assumption by the Iranians that U.S. airborne refueling planes were part of the effort to extend the range of the attacking aircraft. Moreover, under certain circumstances, the origin of the attacking aircraft won't be clearly discernible. If none of the attacking aircraft are brought down by Iranian air defense, and the attacks are done at night, the Iranians will have to make assumptions about who was involved, and may decide to err on the side of inclusivity.
As the Times reported:
The results of the war game were particularly troubling to Gen. James N. Mattis, who commands all American forces in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, according to officials who either participated in the Central Command exercise or who were briefed on the results and spoke on condition of anonymity because of its classified nature. When the exercise had concluded earlier this month, according to the officials, General Mattis told aides that an Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there.
The two-week war game, called Internal Look, played out a narrative in which the United States found it was pulled into the conflict after Iranian missiles struck a Navy warship in the Persian Gulf, killing about 200 Americans, according to officials with knowledge of the exercise. The United States then retaliated by carrying out its own strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.
. . .
Officials said that, under the chain of events in the war game, Iran believed that Israel and the United States were partners in any strike against Iranian nuclear sites and therefore considered American military forces in the Persian Gulf as complicit in the attack. Iranian jets chased Israeli warplanes after the attack, and Iranians launched missiles at an American warship in the Persian Gulf, viewed as an act of war that allowed an American retaliation.The U.S. has announced a beefing up of naval assets in the Persian Gulf, which always includes at least one Carrier Strike Group (consisting of an aircraft carrier, a guided missile cruiser, and three or four destroyers and frigates, a nuclear attack submarine and supply ships). Typically there is a Carrier Strike Group in the Persian Gulf and one stationed in the Arabian Sea immediately to the southeast of the Persian Gulf. So the Iranians will be able to find U.S. naval assets against which to retaliate after an Israeli attack.