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Iranian Drone Overflights of U.S. Warships in Persian Gulf Now Common

Iranian-built Shahed 129.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – U.S. warships operating in the Persian Gulf are now regularly overflown by Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles, adding a new wrinkle to operations in the region, Navy and Marine commanders said on Tuesday.

In June, the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and embarked 26 Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) entered the Persian Gulf , a region now known for having robust unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) traffic and Iranian-operated patrol boats tailing U.S. Navy ships. Constant surveillance and layered defenses are the cornerstones of how U.S. Navy commanders deal with the Iranian air and sea traffic, Capt. Jack Killman, the commander of Amphibious Squadron 4, Iwo Jima ARG, explained during a panel discussion Tuesday at the NDIA Expeditionary Warfare Conference.

“We did go to the Persian Gulf. We got the normal welcome form the Iranians, UAVs overflights, exactly as we trained for; no surprises there,” Killman said.

USS Iwo Jima’s (LHD-7) arrival in the Persian Gulf marked the first time in two and a half months the U.S. Navy had sent a capital ship to the region. Also, when Iwo Jima entered the  Persian Gulf in June, major components of the ARG – USS Oak Hill (LSD-51), USS New York (LPD-21) and elements of the 26 MEU – remained in the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas.

Shortly after Iwo Jima departed the Persian Gulf, Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri, the recently installed commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, announced Iran would take charge of maintaining security in the Persian Gulf and the U.S. Navy was not welcome.

Last week, when amphibious warship USS Essex (LHD-2), with a squadron of Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, passed through the Strait of Hormuz, there were no reports of Iranian forces performing unsafe or unprofessional maneuvers, Navy officials told USNI News.

Marines assigned to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (26th MEU) depart a landing craft, air cushion on an F470 Zodiac combat rubber raiding craft during amphibious operations with the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) in May 2018. US Navy photo.

In June, when Iwo Jima entered the Persian Gulf, two Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyers operating in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operation provided additional layers of defense against unmanned vehicles or other threats, Killman said. The guided-missile destroyers have powerful sensors to detect approaching UAVs or boats, Killman said. The challenge is identifying smaller UAVs and determining whether any were armed.

Guided-missile destroyers, with their robust sensors, provide the ARG with early warnings to potential threats are approaching. In the Persian Gulf, land-based vehicles and missiles do not have far to travel to reach maritime traffic. The Strait of Hormuz is an especially tense choke point, where ships pass relatively close to Iran.

“The small boats [and] the UAVs are definitely out there tracking us,” Killman said.

This layered defense is vital to protecting the Navy’s capital ships. The only catch is when Iwo Jima was in the Persian Gulf, Killman said only two guided missile destroyers were operating in the region.

“We have the capability,” Killman said of defenses against UAVs and patrol boats. “I think what we’re seeing is a capacity issue.”

  • johnbull

    Perhaps this is a stupid question. Why don’t we just splash the drones?

    • DaSaint

      Can’t just splash the property of another country that hasn’t technically harmed you over international waters. That’s like saying lets splash one of the Russian fighters that likes to buzz a USN warship. They’re actually more of a threat.

      • Curtis Conway

        Opportunity

      • tim

        I would have thought that we have the technology to interfere with such UVAs in such a way, as they loose control? That would not be shooting down, just a risk anyone would have to put up with closing in on a warship.

        • NavySubNuke

          Let me explain this as a story: Imagine a scenario where i know you are rich and I also know that you like to keep large sums of money in the house. If I bribe your housekeeper to give me a key should I use that key to let myself in to steal $500 knowing you will realize someone has a key or should I hold out and wait for you to have $100,000 before I make my move?
          When it comes to deterring our enemies it is good to reveal, to a large extent anyway, just how capable we are. As Dr. Strangelove pointed out – you can’t just build a doomsday machine and not tell anyone about it! But when it comes to tactical capabilities like you suggest – even if we could do that it would be best that we not reveal it until it actually matters (i.e. we are in the middle of a shooting war).

          • tim

            … I am fully aware of that conundrum. I would also think that our enemies have a good feel for what our EMW capabilities may be. This is going to be a tech spiral for a long time to come. I personally would like to see a stand-off area that is advertised and defended.

          • wzrd1

            Why give away the specifics of one’s capabilities, which then are researched with a view of countering them, when one lacks a clear gain from such a revelation?

            Doing so loses one annoyance at the cost of losing one critical advantage.

          • Alex Andrite

            I still like the Gulf Sea Gull “Bird Strike” scenario. All we have to do is frighten them into flight.

          • Bob Elfers

            Just what I was thinking. They will not be gathering much valuable intel, but the activity is good opportunity to train, develop tactics, and determine what assets are needed for best defense.

          • wzrd1

            I’d use a different example. I notice someone peering into my window at night. Do I go and get my gun, thereby both informing the viewer that I am armed, but precisely how well armed that I am and precisely where the weapon is located?

      • Centaurus

        Their intentions to threaten offends us. That merits elimination. By Laser immolation. Bonzai !!!!!!!!!!!

        • wzrd1

          Due to the geography, all nautical traffic is within Iranian waters. As a foreign naval force passes within that narrow passage, it is only prudent that that nation’s military observe the disposition of that foreign naval force.
          Interfering with that observation gives an indication of hostile intent and wars have started in just that manner.

          If our military started shooting without orders whenever it was offended, we’d be up to World War 99 – with sticks and stones.

          • Centaurus

            Can you feel us dialing in in you now ? We’re about to eliminate you in WW 100 ! Don’t you ever give up ?

          • wzrd1

            I stopped counting at WW 33 1/3, the record. Got dizzy watching it go around and around and around…
            You’re going to attack Harrisburg, PA? Get ready to meet the PA National Guard and the PA Air National Guard. And well, the entire DoD, as there are a butt ton of military depots in the area.
            What next? You gonna attack Site R?

      • Jack D Ripper

        bs

    • Rob C.

      It be act war unless drop a bomb or something.
      When i servered, they were sending Tugboats/salvage boats to play chicken with ships end up swerving off at the last moment. It’s what Iran does.

      • E1 Kabong

        Operation Praying Mantis….

    • PolicyWonk

      In addition to what other posters have mentioned, there is also the problem that the Iranians are entitled to patrol the airspace (and oceans) along their shorelines. Take a look at a map of the Persian Gulf – its didn’t get that name without reason.

      If I were in their shoes I’d be doing exactly what they’re doing, and so would you.

      • wzrd1

        Well, the western neighbors refer to the gulf as the Arabian Gulf.

        • PolicyWonk

          Yep – pretty amusing, isn’t it?

          • wzrd1

            Quite entertaining at times.
            Although, sometimes interesting. Like watching our tracking of Iranian Kilo boats quite accurately. Accidentally bumped into that content while preparing a briefing on some other matter.

  • Pete Novick

    “f. Hostile Intent. Hostile intent is the threat of imminent use of force by a foreign force or terrorist unit (organization or individual) against the United States, U.S. forces, and in certain circumstances, U.S. citizens, their property, U.S. commercial assets, or other designated non-U.S. forces, foreign nationals and their property. When hostile intent is present, the right exists to use proportional force, including armed force, in self-defense by all necessary means available to deter or neutralize the potential attacker or, if necessary, to destroy the threat.”

    – US JCS Standing ROE

    Or as we used to translate this, “Don’t take the first hit.”

    • johnbull

      Thanks for answering my question.

      • bob

        Pete, I’m an old fart now, but do you remember the ROE when we played grabass with the Soviets?

        I recall my brother Haze Gray sailors were very touchy about anything getting near their portable airports. I may be wrong but wasn’t there a certainly point where they’d be told to piss off?

        I’ve seen the pictures of the overflights of the other ships, which we did too, but seem to recall the USN really got unhappy if they came near a carrier.

        • wzrd1

          The USN would harass the Soviets, but they didn’t shoot any of them down.

  • Ed L

    Layer defense of a task force. Perfect mission for the LCS.

    • E1 Kabong

      The LCS is only good at sucking up defence budget funds.

  • Western

    Some electronics technician launches a capture drone from the deck of Iwo Jima. It’s radar sensors fly it to the nearest Iranian drone, where it detaches a magnetized remora that lands on the drone, downloads it’s electronic signatures and mirrors it’s control signals to Iwo’s CIC. The remora detaches and splashes in the strait for recovery, while the drone is under Iwo command, should it need it.

    • wzrd1

      Electronics technicians don’t launch anything. There are officers that order other MOS’s to launch things from warships.
      There is also no need to do such a silly thing, as electronic interception is a very real thing. So is cryptanalysis.
      Besides, splashes in for recovery, then a speedboat happily recovers US property that attempted to steal something that doesn’t belong to the US, giving them a new technology and making us look sillier than we usually look, which is downright zany at times.

  • Henry

    I remember when these posts would always draw a flurry of comments about how all this would stop as soon as Obama left office. Guess that wasn’t the problem…

    • Ctrot

      Actually the direct confrontations with the US Navy by Iranian Navy/Guard have dropped to the lowest in years. There were dozens per year 2012-2016, practically none in 2018. They’ve switched to UAV’s precisely because they fear what a non wimp POTUS will do if they continued the direct confrontation tactic.

      • John Locke

        No, they haven’t. Stop making things up. You are not there. The transit shadowing just isn’t reported in the media.

        • wzrd1

          Transit shadowing has gone on for about as long as navies have existed.

  • Eagle115

    The Iranians are setting up a “Gray area” scenario that someone will bemoan after an event happens. We will get used to their flying around and then there will be an incident, either crashing into one of our aircraft or hitting one of our ships and claiming it was a navigational error. We need to push the drones back now or there will be trouble. Remember, the Iranians don’t operate under the same ROE that we do.

  • The fundamental question: Why do these people keep putting their countries next to American ships and aircraft? First, it’s the Russians, then the Chinese, then the Iranians… It’s like their trying to pick a fight.

    The straight is about 33 mi at its narrowest point. I would get John Kerry over there negotiating an easement. Get Iran to push their country back another 50 to 100 mi.

    • wzrd1

      It is troublesome when some country swerved into the path of our spy planes. Russia kept doing that for decades!
      Fortunately, we’ve solved that problem by allowing Russian spy planes overfly our missile sites and vice versa, to confirm compliance with arms limitations treaties. No more swerving countries in that sector.

      BTW, nit pick, it’s strait in this application, not straight.
      Still, with a bit of patience, that strait will move to the desired width, give or take a million years. It is a rift valley, after all.

  • Kim Chul Soo

    The Iranians are like gnats at a picnic.

    • Centaurus

      Witness the fine Iranian engineering talent shown by the Predator copy.
      They couldn’t take a pic of a fly on their nose with a nose cam.
      These guys are a joke…just look

  • RunningBear

    But….the US has spent a $1or2 on EA/EW where an inflight reprogram of “drone to return to base/rtb”…..no fingerprints or bumper stickers!
    IMHO
    Fly Navy
    🙂

    • Alex Andrite

      Yep, I have re thought this, lets keep the Gulf Sea Gulls “Bird Strike” in our breast pocket. Loose lips sink us all.

  • graylens

    They are immunizing us to there drones. After a while we will just ignore them or let them get real close When the Iranians want to use them we will be caught unaware and surprised. We should set up rules restricting our airspace even in international waters

    • tim

      I remember way back, the french navy would fly low over our mast heads in the Mediterranean … we had no clue why … coming back again and again and always in one direction. We opened the radio channel and they wanted us to go the direction of the fighter. Not possible for us as a sailboat, my father tried to tell them – our french being limited as it were – but we made out their threats of firing upon us. So we took down sails and went motoring, following their polite directions. We only made out a group of large ships with binoculars dar away and were going almost full speed at 8 or 9 knots. Still have a hard time figuring out what was going on but later we heard that the french navy routinely did this when they had exercises and moved a group from a to b. That moving territory became a “no go zone”. I thought we did that too?

  • RunningBear

    Maybe but…..RQ-170 scenario is similar to what I propose. Also…..returning their drone is a much needed skill set for our anti-drone programs. Practice makes perfect!!!…and I would prefer a “Fly Navy” bumper sticker on each returned drone!
    IMHO
    Fly Navy
    🙂

    • wzrd1

      Like when we were forced to ask China for our underwater drone back?
      When did the US Navy become pirates? Perhaps, I should ask the Rear Admiral that on Monday morning.
      Although, if one could safely, without risk of damage, apply such a decal to an Iranian drone while it’s in flight, I’m quite certain that that would be approved.

      • RunningBear

        Fly Navy bumper stickers are available via software and “if” we chose to borrow their inflight drone for flight evaluation and what software tidbits it’s carrying, then leaving the Fly Navy bumper sticker is quite the easy parting task.

        Its rude to be invited to a party and not say thank you.
        IMHO
        Fly Navy
        🙂

  • Alex Andrite

    They could encounter a ‘bird strike’. Those Gulf Sea Gulls are enormous !!

    • wzrd1

      So is the Iranian stockpile of naval mines, including mines that can be deployed by their submarines.
      Which is a possible response to a hostile naval force’s engaging surveillance drones that are tracking said hostile fleet within their territorial waters.

      • Alex Andrite

        Territorial waters ? Let me check on that. Hostile Naval Forces ? Let me check on that.
        Meanwhile wzrd1, check on your confusion.

        Peace, through Superior Firepower !

        • wzrd1

          Check on your own. The Strait of Hormuz is 33 miles across. National waters are at 22 nautical miles, which is 13.8 statute miles, so one is already skirting their waters and that would bear observation by any nation’s military. Now, a task force sails in formation, not single file, especially in a narrow choke point like a strait, to still provide screen protection for capital ships.
          Yep, straying into their waters is trivial, so they watch.
          Interfering, that’s just stupid. After all, the ships could just drop anchor in the middle of the channel, maneuver around a bit and oops, accidents happen. Like the regular Iranian speed boat crap that goes on whenever our warships go through.
          A purer case of, “Dude, do you know how much damage you’ll do to my ship if we collide? Absolutely none, won’t even scratch the paint” as can be.

          • Alex Andrite

            Checking, please wait.

          • petzmom

            wzrd1 important

  • Matthew Schilling

    An Iranian drone would not be allowed to fly over any piece of CONUS. A Navy ship is US territory – sensitive territory at that. I would set a zero tolerance policy, and it would include a sphere out a certain distance from the ship. Come within that and lose your toy.

    • wzrd1

      Let me get this straight, an Iranian drone, flying over the Persian Gulf, should not be allowed to fly over any piece of the CONtinental US.
      Got ya.
      No, a warship is not an embassy.
      Hence, if one shoots down an observing asset while in transit within weapons range of one’s homeland, one has committed an act of war.

      • Matthew Schilling

        Boy, just you wait a month, and I will tell you what I think of your reply!

        • wzrd1

          Considering the idiocy of your comment, the delay is understandable. Would you prefer a second month to at least learn to use the lingo correctly?

          Here is a hint, oh geologically challenged one, the Continental US, by definition is not the open ocean, high seas or a passage into the Persian Gulf. Ships are most certainly not part of our continent when away from the continent. Ships are also not embassies, so are not considered under international conventions as US soil. They’re US property, in the case of US government owned vessels and specifically, US military vessels and ships of war and still not considered US soil.

          On second thought, perhaps three months would be more appropriate for your level of unintelligence.

          • Matthew Schilling

            I had heard that as a guy gets older his brain can shrink, and that one symptom of this is he can be very grumpy. Thanks for demonstrating that for me!

  • Matthew Schilling

    Therefore, it only wastes twice as much of it…

  • Ctrot

    All he had to do was take office. The Iranians are smart enough to know that they can’t get away with as much with Trump as they could with The Wimp. It’s just like how they released the embassy hostages the day Ronald Reagan replaced Wimp Mark I.

    • wzrd1

      Uh huh, it had nothing to do with the felonious arms for hostages program, naw, not at all.

      • Ctrot

        Yeah, I am sure that had something to do with it on the day Reagan took office. LOL.

  • E1 Kabong

    Wrong, as usual Diane….

  • RunningBear

    “IF” the Iranians obey the international “standoff” rules with their drones, no problem.

    “BUT”, when they don’t, I would have no issue with causing them to lose control and splash their drone into the sea.

    Why would you allow Iran any less trepidation of approaching an operating US military vessel (no different than the USS Cole) than all other people. These ships are not cruise liners, as the Iranians and all others well recognize.

    Cross the line, lose the drone!…..or don’t go near the line!!

    IMHO
    Fly Navy
    🙂