Iran Temporarily Captures Two U.S. Saildrones in Red Sea

September 2, 2022 1:48 PM - Updated: September 3, 2022 2:43 PM
A Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel (USV) sails in the Gulf of Aqaba off of Jordan’s coast on Dec. 12, 2022. US Army Photo

The story has been updated to include a statement from the U.S. Navy.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy briefly captured two U.S. unmanned surface vehicles in the Red Sea on Thursday, a U.S. Navy official confirmed to USNI News.
Frigate IRIS Jamaran (FFLG 76) seized two Saildrone Explorer USVs, which are operated by U.S. 5th Fleet, on Thursday afternoon before returning them to U.S. custody the next day.

“The vessels posed no risk to naval traffic and had been operating in the general vicinity of the Southern Red Sea for more than 200 consecutive days without incident,” 5th Fleet said in a statement.

The USVs were collecting imagery near international waters when the IRIN seized and detained them, USNI News understands.

In a Friday evening statement, 5th Fleet said destroyers USS Delbert D. Black (DDG-119) and USS Nitze (DDG-94) obtained the USVs from the IRIN on Friday morning local time.

“At around 2 p.m. (local time) on Sept. 1, U.S. 5th Fleet detected the Iranian ship approaching both unmanned vessels and removing them from the water. U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyers USS Nitze (DDG 94) and USS Delbert D. Black (DDG 119) were operating nearby and immediately responded. Nitze and Delbert D. Black also each launched an MH-60R Sea Hawk from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 48,” according to 5th Fleet.
Nitze and Delbert D. Black remained on scene communicating with the Iranian warship to deescalate the situation and recover the seized Saildrones. The Iranian warship released the Saildrones at 8 a.m. on Sept. 2.”

The incident comes several days after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy tried to capture a Saildrone Explorer USV in the Persian Gulf.

“While transiting international waters around 11 p.m. (local time), Aug. 29, U.S. 5th Fleet observed IRGCN support ship Shahid Baziar towing a Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel (USV) in an attempt to detain it. U.S. Navy patrol coastal ship USS Thunderbolt (PC 12) was operating nearby and immediately responded. U.S. 5th Fleet also launched an MH-60S Sea Hawk from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26, based in Bahrain,” 5th Fleet said in an Aug. 30 statement about the first incident.

After the U.S. response, the IRGC cut the line towing the USV and left the waters.

Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the commander of U.S. 5th Fleet, called the IRGCN attempt to seize the Saildrone USV “flagrant, unwarranted and inconsistent with the behavior of a professional maritime force.”

Following the first incident earlier this week, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said he would not comment on how regularly these types of seizures might happen.

“So I’m not going to speculate on the hypothetical in terms of how often this could happen. Clearly, Fifth Fleet has it well in hand in terms of patrolling the waterway there, and maintaining situational awareness in terms of their capabilities and assets in the region,” Ryder told reporters on Wednesday. “And again, as was evidenced by the USS Thunderbolt, the ability to respond quickly, should something like that happen again in the future, which hopefully it will not.”

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne is a reporter for USNI News. She previously covered the Navy for Inside Defense and reported on politics for The Hill.
Follow @MalShelbourne

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