The Russian news agency Interfax now reports that American forces in the region possess up to 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles available to strike targets in Syria if ordered to do so.
And the USS Essex, part of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), has rapid deployment forces of Marine units designed for immediate amphibious landing in coastal areas, along with a advanced stealth fighter aircraft.
Gerald Olin, commander of Amphibious Squadron of which the Essex is part, has defined the deployment's mission as follows: “The embarked Marines of 13th MEU allow us the flexibility to rapidly respond to crises and set conditions that promote security in the region.”
The build-up in and near the Mediterranean comes amidst a massive Russian navy presence along Syria's coast and after two weeks of threats from US officials that America will react "swiftly and appropriately" should Assad launch a chemical weapons attack.
Though Russian bombing over Idlib began days ago, it appears a full Syrian Army and Russian assault has been delayed partly over the objections of Turkey.
According to Task and Purpose the agile Essex small carrier is designed for quick military action and response:
Until recently, the U.S. had no capital ships and just one or two destroyers in the Mediterranean, but the USS Essex, a small, flat-deck aircraft carrier used to launch U.S. Marine Corps F-35B stealth jets that can take off almost vertically, just arrived off the horn of Africa, USNI News reports.
Though the Essex remains on the opposite side of the Suez Canal from Russia’s ships in the Mediterranean, it’s a quick-moving ship. Additionally, the F-35Bs can fly about 550 miles out from the ship in stealth configurations that make them hard to detect for enemy defenses.
Last week Russia conducted major military drills along Syria's coast as a show of force. On Saturday footage released by Russia’s Defense Ministry showed marine special forces equipped with the latest Russian gear landing on the shores of the Syrian Latakia province.
As part of the staged invasion, the Russian Marines used helicopters, fast attack craft and armored vehicles while landing from major amphibious ships under cover of dozens of Russian combat aircraft.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials have said that the US “does not seek to fight the Russians, the government of Syria or any groups that may be providing support to Syria."
However, the US responded to the Russian drills by its own drill involving over 100 Marines flown to southeast Syria for "snap live-fire exercises" in order to send a "strong message" to Russia after earlier last week Moscow warned its forces could attack in the area near US-occupied At Tanf.