The USS Port Royal (CG-73), one of three U.S. naval vessels involved in a confrontation with Iranian gunboats in the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday morning (Wikipedia photo)
UPDATE//0941EST//According to CNN, U.S. military officials are describing Saturday’s harassment event as a “major confrontation” between U.S. and Iranian naval forces.
U.S. military officials said the incident occurred Saturday night in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow shipping channel leading in and out of the Persian Gulf.
The five Iranian ships made “threatening” moves — in one case coming within 200 yards of a U.S. ship, the U.S. officials said.
In one radio transmission, the Iranians told the U.S. Navy: “I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes,” the U.S. military officials told CNN.
When the U.S. ships heard that radio transmission, they manned their gun positions and officers were “in the process” of giving the order to fire when the Iranians abruptly turned away, the U.S. officials said.
No shots were fired and no one was injured in the confrontation.
One of the Iranian ships had been dropping white boxes into the water in front of the U.S. ships, the officials told CNN.
The Pentagon has not disclosed the names of the U.S. ships involved in the incident. As noted in the CNN account, the IRGC has assumed control of Iranian naval operations in the Persian Gulf, following a trend noted throughout Tehran’s military.
Over the past 20 years, the IRGC has gained a greater share of Iran’s defense budget, and receives the newest hardware, while the regular military–often viewed as politically unreliable–still operates 1970s-era western equipment. The IRGC is now in charge of Iran’s ballistic missile force, its more modern air defenses (including SA-6 and SA-15) units, and its latest aircraft.
Given those trends, it’s no surprise that Tehran has given the IRGC control of naval operations in the Strait of Hormuz. And that will increase the chances for similar incidents in the future. While Iran’s “regular” Navy has often been professional in its operations (and even cooperative in resolving maritime issues), the IRGC is a completely different breed. In other words, the zealots and crazies are now in charge of Iran’s naval ops in one of the world’s most important waterways. Not a good sign, to say the least.
Despite the news from the Persian Gulf, crude oil prices have been on a slight downward track this morning. That suggests that (a) the market hasn’t fully absorbed the news, or (b) they’re dismissing the event as an isolated incident.
And, there’s no word on which Navy vessels were involved in the incident. However, Galrahn at InformationDissemination does a great job in tracking vessels deployed to the Gulf region. As of last Friday, he listed the following ships in the 5th Fleet’s Area of Responsibility; his listing includes U.S., British, French, German and Australian vessels.
Order of Battle in the 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility.
The Truman Carrier Strike Group
USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75)USS San Jacinto (CG 56)USS Hue City (CG 66)USS Carney (DDG 64)USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79)USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81)HMS Manchester (D95)HMCS Charlottetown (FFH 339)USNS Artic (T-AOE 8)USS Montpelier (SSN 765)
Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group
USS Tarawa (LHA 1)USS Cleveland (LPD 7)USS Germantown (LSD 42)USS Port Royal (CG 73)USS Hopper (DDG 70)USS Ingraham (FFG 61)
Ocean 6FGS Augsburg (F 213)FS Guepratte (F714)FS Commandant Ducuing (F795)FS Premier Maitre L’Her (F792)USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41)HMS Campbeltown (F 86)HMAS Arunta (FFH 151)USS Scout (MCM 8)USS Gladiator (MCM 11)USS Ardent (MCM 12)USS Dexterous (MCM 13)HMS Ramsay (M 110)HMS Blyth (M 111)
The Iranian Navy, or more specifically, IRGC naval forces, have carried out harassment operations in the past. While details of Saturday’s incident remain sketchy, it does not sound like a rehearsal of the “swarm” tactics that IRGC forces would use against western naval forces in an actual conflict.
Utilizing that approach, dozens of small craft–some as small a jet skis–would attempt to engage western combatants at close range–inside the effective range of the vessels’ major weapons systems–using everything from RPGs to mines. The swarm attack could also provide cover for strikes by other weapons, including C-802 anti-ship missiles launched by shore batteries or aircraft. By damaging (or sinking) major naval combatants or support vessels, the Iranians believe they can close the Strait of Hormuz, effectively shutting off much of the world’s oil supply.
Word of the incident in the Strait came only days after a reported decrease in the flow of weapons from Iran, to insurgents in Iraq. But, with release of the recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear program (and perceptions that an American military strike is less likely), elements of Iran’s defense establishment may feel emboldened, and willing to test the reactions of U.S. forces in the region.