Iran and the US Navy are engaged in a game of cat and mouse in the Arabian Gulf, with Iran posting drone footage of a US aircraft carrier last week with the US releasing footage of the Iranian drone in return.
On Sunday, the US released an image of the same Iranian drone, taken from nearby US aircraft.
“Aircraft from Dwight D Eisenhower Carrier Air Wing intercepts an Iranian UAV operating in an unsafe and unprofessional manner during aircraft carrier flight operations in the Arabian Gulf,” US Centom, the headquarters of the US force in the Middle East wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
“The US Navy will continue to fly and sail where international law allows,” it added.
The US has increased naval forces in the area since the October 7 attack into southern Israel amid fears the war could ignite the Middle East.
US missile destroyers, including the USS Carney and USS Thomas Hudson, have already intercepted ballistic missiles fired by Iran-backed Houthi militias in the Red Sea, as well as missiles and drones fired directly at the ships. The Houthis have declared war on Israel and have fired ballistic missiles at targets in the country.
The Arabian Gulf, particularly the narrow stretch of water at the Straits of Hormuz, 55km across at its narrowest, has long been a concern for the US. Iran threatened to close it off in response to US sanctions on Iranian oil.
About 20 per cent of the world’s oil supply moves through the straits.
The US Navy is said to be highly vulnerable in the shallow and narrow waterways of Hormuz, where Iran could place hundreds of small and agile missile boats in a bid to overwhelm US defences in a swarm attack.
Iran also has thousands of shore-launched ballistic missiles and drones that could also overwhelm the formidable air defences in a US aircraft carrier group.
The US has in recent years invested heavily in countering these threats, mounting the Aegis missile defence system, which has successfully downed Houthi ballistic missiles, on vessels in the carrier strike group,
Other defences include the Phalanx close-in weapon system, a rapid-firing cannon that can fire at targets at a rate of 50 shells per second. It has now been adapted to be equipped to target small speed boats of the kind used by Iran.
US aircraft are also expected to deploy cluster bombs and laser-guided rockets to destroy the small vessels, but analysts fear an attack involving a combination of boats, drones and missiles could overwhelm defences.