Drones and artificial intelligence capabilities that have been tested and refined in the Middle East by an innovative U.S. Navy task force are now under consideration to support the new multinational coalition set up to protect ships transiting the Red Sea, multiple sources told DefenseScoop.
On Tuesday in Bahrain, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Operation Prosperity Guardian — a new security initiative between the United States and an undisclosed number of other nations to “jointly address security challenges in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.” Technologies being advanced by the U.S. Navy’s Task Force 59, under 5th Fleet, are in discussion to enable some of that new multinational coalition’s forthcoming activities.
Task Force 59’s role in Operation Prosperity Guardian “is currently bounded, but provides some interesting highlights” about what the unit has accomplished to date, a senior U.S. Central Command official told DefenseScoop on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.
Operation Prosperity Guardian comes in response to a series of drone and missile assaults against commercial vessels in crucial shipping lanes around the Red Sea. The weapons were launched from parts of Yemen that the Pentagon assesses is controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis rebel group. These types of attacks have intensified since Israel’s war against the Palestine-based militant group Hamas began after an Oct. 7 ambush.
The United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles and Spain — and several other countries who asked to secretly sign on — are working with American troops to collectively supply personnel, weapons and other military assets for Prosperity Guardian.
Notably, the effort is being steered under an existing multinational maritime partnership between dozens of nations to secure the Gulf of Oman, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, which is known as the Combined Maritime Forces and includes Task Force 153.
“Operation Prosperity Guardian is an international response to threats and actions by the Houthis to disrupt the international flow of commerce, inhibit freedom of navigation, and endanger the safety of ships and personnel affiliated with more than 35 different countries,” a Pentagon spokesperson told DefenseScoop Tuesday.
Back in 2021, the U.S. Navy established Task Force 59 as a first-of-its-kind unit that could strategically deploy and integrate uncrewed systems and AI for maritime domain awareness and deterrence pursuits. Since then, the task force has completed tens of thousands of hours operating and aggressively experimenting with unmanned surface vessels and associated technologies in waters around the Arabian Peninsula.
In response to questions from DefenseScoop this week, several U.S. government officials, on the condition of anonymity, said Task Force 59 is not preparing to operate as an element of Operation Prosperity Guardian, but that technologies it has enabled could underpin some of the multinational effort.
“Bottom line is we think the ongoing efforts demonstrate a) how Task Force 59 has successfully integrated unmanned capabilities into the traditional fleet out at [Naval Forces Central Command, or NAVCENT] and b) how it has built out a broader bench of capability that can support the efforts as needed,” the senior U.S. Central Command official told DefenseScoop on Wednesday.
They did not provide further information regarding what specific technologies may be provided.