On the heels of the defense secretary announcing his approved late last week to send an aircraft carrier to the Middle East several months early to make sure at least two carriers will constantly be present in the troubled region, the Wall Street Journal reports today of another defense effort to "[organize the Pentagon's] biggest-ever minesweeping exercises in the Persian Gulf."
The WSJ reports the Pentagon is building a missile-defense radar station in Qatar to address the potential for "Tehran's arsenal of ballistic missiles and its threat to shut down the oil-shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz by mining them."
The minesweepers give the U.S. greater flexibility to counter any Iranian effort to mine the strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, which is already routinely patrolled by Iranian and U.S. warships. Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the strategic waterway, which is the transit route for about a fifth of the world's oil supply, in retaliation for increased Western-led sanctions.
Here's more from WSJ on the plans:
The Pentagon chose to place the new radar site in Qatar because it is home to the largest U.S. military air base in the region, Al Udeid Air Base, analysts say. More than 8,000 troops are stationed there and at another U.S. base in Qatar.
Qatari officials in Washington and Doha didn't respond to requests for comment. Qatar has taken on roles in conflicts in Libya and Syria, winning U.S. praise. Qatar guards a more neutral stance when it comes to Iran, maintaining close relations with Tehran, which shares ownership with Doha of the region's largest natural gas field.
The radar base in Qatar is slated to house a powerful AN/TPY-2 radar, also known as an X-Band radar, and supplement two similar arrays already in place in Israel's Negev Desert and in central Turkey, officials said. Together, the three radar sites form an arc that U.S. officials say can detect missile launches from northern, western and southern Iran.
Missiles launched from Iran will be tracked and the sites are also equipped to alert the proper missile-interceptor systems. One of these is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THADD) missile-interceptor system, which the Army wants to deploy for the first time in the area soon. The WSJ reports Riki Ellison with the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance saying the X-band radar and THAAD together provide an "extra layer of defense."
Watch WSJ discuss the increase of defensive tactics:
In addition to building up missile detection efforts, at the request of James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has approved sending by late summer the USS John C. Stennis strike group, which also includes the Aegis guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay and some 5,500 sailors to the Middle East.
Mattis emphasized this move was "not about any one particular country or any one particular threat."
Read the full Wall Street Journal report on the "bulking up" of defense systems in the Persian Gulf here.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.