The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said on Thursday it launched a new task force in the Gulf incorporating drones and artificial intelligence following maritime attacks blamed on Iran.

A statement by the US Naval Forces Central Command, or NAVCENT, said the task force would rely on regional and coalition partnerships.

“The bottom line on why we’re doing this is so that we can develop and integrate unmanned systems and AI as a means to do two things,” NAVCENT commander Brad Cooper said.

“One, enhance our maritime domain awareness, and two, increase deterrence,” he said in the statement.

Since February, Analysts have blamed Iran and its arch-enemy Israel for engaging in “shadow war”, in which vessels linked to every state have come under attack in waters around the Gulf in tit for tat exchanges.

On July 29 an assault against the Israeli-linked MT Mercer Street oil products tanker off Oman’s coast killed a British security guard and a Romanian crew member.

G7 foreign ministers last month said “all available evidence clearly points to Iran” being behind the attack in which drones were used.

Iran denied the allegations, which came days before ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi took office in the Islamic republic. The attack on the Mercer Street came in the midst of stalled talks between Tehran and world powers aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

US Navy spokesman Tim Hawkins said the task force was “dedicated to rapidly integrate unmanned systems and artificial intelligence with maritime operations in the Fifth Fleet region”. “When we talk about the integration of new unmanned systems, we’re talking about systems that can be used under, on, and above the water,” he said.

Iran has likewise been accused of hijacking an asphalt and bitumen tanker in the Gulf of Oman in August, which it denied. The Fifth Fleet is situated in the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain.

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