ABU DHABI (Dispatches) -- The 5,600 men and women aboard the nuclear-powered USS Abraham Lincoln do not venture near Iranian waters, despite a warning from President Donald Trump's national security adviser that the warship is in the Middle East "to send a clear and unmistakable message" to Iran to steer clear of U.S. interests in the region, the New York Times reports.
Instead, it is the Lincoln that has steered clear of Iran. In the past four months, the ship has entered neither the Persian Gulf nor the Strait of Hormuz, the crucial oil-tanker highways it is supposed to protect.
"We recognize that tensions are high, and we don't want to go to war," said Capt. William Reed, a fighter pilot who commands the ship's air wing. "We don't want to escalate things with Iran."
According to the New York Times, the Navy has carried out the order of its commander in chief to counter Iran in the Middle East but in the least provocative way. Just where to station the Lincoln -- one of the country's 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers -- is a decision made by the Navy's 5th Fleet, which has its headquarters in Bahrain. The fear is that sending an aircraft carrier through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, right when Trump has turned up the heat on Tehran, could provoke exactly the kind of conflict the Pentagon wants to avoid.
"Anytime a carrier moves close to shore, and especially into confined waters, the danger to the ship goes up significantly," said James Stavridis, a retired admiral and former supreme allied commander for NATO. "It becomes vulnerable to diesel submarines, shore-launched cruise missiles and swarming tactics by small boats armed with missiles" -- all parts of the Iranian arsenal of weaponry and tactical maneuvers.
So the Lincoln remains in the North Arabian Sea and at times more than 600 nautical miles from the Strait of Hormuz, the Times said. Often, the Lincoln is off the coast of Oman, not far from Muscat.
"The men who populate Iran's southern beaches need not worry about seeing the Lincoln on the horizon,” the paper said.
According to the daily, fighter pilots on a recent Saturday battled wind gusts to catch the wire as they landed on the pitching carrier in the North Arabian Sea, with its huge waves and fierce undertow. Unlike the far calmer Persian Gulf, the North Arabian Sea at this time of the year is ferocious. The ship has been dealing with a succession of monsoons.
Navy officials say there is nothing that they can do in the Strait of Hormuz or the Persian Gulf that they cannot do from the North Arabian Sea.
F/A-18s would make sure to stay away from the 12-mile border that encompasses Iranian airspace, Navy officials said. To get to the Persian Gulf, the warplanes fly above Oman and other Persian Gulf allies, not over Iran.
Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran has sharply increased tensions between the two adversaries. The Navy has sent smaller warships through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Persian Gulf, but Navy officials say privately that an aircraft carrier could prove too tantalizing a target for Iran to resist.
"I wouldn't say we are sitting ducks because we have offensive capability," Boyle said. "But as you get further out into the North Arabian Sea, they just can't see us."
The report came as the Royal Navy boasted Saturday that a third British warship was heading to the Persian Gulf.
Britain has already sent the HMS Kent to cover for frigate HMS Montrose while it undergoes maintenance in nearby Bahrain, and is now redirecting the Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender from its mission to the Pacific.
Britain outraged Iran by seizing one of its tankers -- the Grace 1 -- on July 4. Iranian troops stormed and detained the UK-flagged Stena Impero and its 23 crew as they sailed through the Strait of Hormuz on July 20.
The HMS Defender sailed from Portsmouth on August 12, alongside HMS Kent, which was also heading to the Persian Gulf to replace the HMS Duncan, the Royal Navy said.