The 44th Naval Escort Task Force, originating from the People's Liberation Army Eastern Theatre, has been conducting standard operations in the region since May. This included a multi-day visit to Oman last week, where they participated in a joint naval exercise with the Omani Navy, as confirmed by the Chinese defense ministry.
Following their visit, the task force left Muscat, the capital of Oman, on October 14, heading towards an undisclosed location, according to state media reports. The visit was marked by interactions between Chinese and Omani military officials, including visits to military institutions and a friendly basketball match, as reported by the state news agency Xinhua.
The task force comprises the Zibo, a Type 052D guided-missile destroyer, the frigate Jingzhou, and the integrated supply ship Qiandaohu. Earlier this month, command was transferred to the 45th Naval Escort Task Force from the People's Liberation Army Northern Theatre command. This new task force includes another Type 052 destroyer, the Urumqi; the frigate Linyi, and the supply ship Dongpinghu.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III announced on Saturday a series of measures aimed at strengthening the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. In his statement, Secretary Austin outlined three significant steps to bolster the U.S. military's position in the region.
He stated, "First, I redirected the movement of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to the Central Command area of responsibility. This carrier strike group is in addition to the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group, which is currently operating in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. It will further increase our force posture and strengthen our capabilities and ability to respond to a range of contingencies."
Secretary Austin also revealed the activation of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery and additional Patriot battalions throughout the region to enhance force protection for U.S. forces. He concluded, "Finally, I have placed an additional number of forces on prepare to deploy orders as part of prudent contingency planning, to increase their readiness and ability to quickly respond as required."