Iran moves mock aircraft carrier to sea amid US tensions

Iranian fast boat is seen speeding towards the carrier after a tugboat pulled her out into the strait from Bandar Abbas

A mock aircraft carrier built by Iran is seen at Bandar Abbas, Iran, before being put to sea. Maxar Technologies via AP
A mock aircraft carrier built by Iran is seen at Bandar Abbas, Iran, before being put to sea. Maxar Technologies via AP

Iran has moved a mock aircraft carrier to the strategic Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the US, satellite photographs released on Monday show.

An image from Maxar Technologies taken on Sunday shows an Iranian fast boat speed towards the carrier, sending waves up in its wake, after a tugboat pulled her out into the strait from the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. The exercise is being described as a signal the country may plan to use it for live-fire drills

Iranian state media and officials have yet to acknowledge bringing the replica out to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 per cent of the world’s oil passes. However, its appearance there suggests Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard is preparing an encore of a similar mock-sinking it conducted in 2015.

The US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, which patrols the Middle East waterways, did not respond to a request for comment.

The replica resembles the Nimitz-class carriers that the US Navy routinely sails into the Arabian Gulf from the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the waterway. The USS Nimitz, the namesake of the class, entered the Middle East waters late last week from the Indian Ocean, probably to replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea.

An Iranian fast boat approaches a mock aircraft carrier built by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. Maxar Technologies via AP
An Iranian fast boat approaches a mock aircraft carrier built by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz. Maxar Technologies via AP

It remains unclear when or if the Nimitz will pass through the Strait of Hormuz or not during its time in the region. The USS Abraham Lincoln, deployed last year as tensions initially surged, spent months in the Arabian Sea before heading through the strait. The Eisenhower came through the strait early last week.

The replica carries 16 mock-ups of fighter jets on its deck, according to the satellite photos taken by Maxar Technologies. The vessel appears to be about 200 metres long and 50 metres wide. A real Nimitz is more than 300 metres long and 75 metres wide.

The mock-up strongly resembles a similar one used in February 2015 during a military exercise called “Great Prophet 9”. During that drill, Iran swarmed the fake aircraft carrier with speedboats firing machineguns and rockets. Surface-to-sea missiles later targeted and destroyed the fake carrier.

That drill, however, came as Iran and world powers remained locked in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear programme. Today, the deal born of those negotiations is in tatters. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in May 2018. Iran later responded by slowly abandoning nearly every commitment under the agreement, though it still allows UN inspectors access to its nuclear sites.

Last summer a series of attacks and incidents further increased tensions between Iran and the US. They reached a crescendo with the January 3 US drone strike near Baghdad International Airport that killed Qassem Suleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile attack that injured dozens of American troops stationed in neighbouring Iraq.

Given the timing of Iran moving the replica to sea, with satellite photos showing it being tugged out of port on Saturday, a drill targeting it may be a direct response from Tehran to an incident last week. That event involved a US F-15 fighter jet approaching a Mahan Air flight over Syria, which injured passengers on the Iranian jetliner.

Updated: July 27, 2020 03:52 PM

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