Iran sank a U.S. aircraft carrier. Big news, right? Well, yes — but not for the reasons you may be thinking.
First, it wasn’t really an American aircraft carrier. It wasn’t an aircraft carrier at all, actually. And while Iran meant to “sink” it, it didn’t mean to sink it. And certainly not in the way it ended up getting sunk.
I’m sure you’re confused, so let me explain. On July 28, according to The Aviationist, a news site that covers military and civilian aircraft, Iran launched its “Great Prophet 14” military exercises. I didn’t pay much attention because I also hadn’t paid attention to the first 13, so I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to follow the plot.
The news that Tehran wanted everyone wanted to pay attention to was the use of the stealthy Shahed 181 and Shahed 191 drones, which The Aviationist notes were reverse-engineered from captured U.S. drones.
If you’re the kind of person who thinks Aviation Week is more engrossing than “Tiger King,” I suppose this is what why you were interested in Great Prophet 14. As for me, I was a bit more entertained by the fact that a fake, scaled-down version of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier the Iranians like to attack during the war games ended up sinking — and exactly where they didn’t want it to.
Forbes’ H.I. Sutton notes that “Iranian armed forces, particularly the IRGC-N (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy) delight in attacking the mock U.S. Navy aircraft carrier” during “Great Prophet” wargames.
According to Popular Mechanics, the “aircraft carrier” was last attacked by the Iranians in 2015.
It’s not just a great morale-booster for the Iranian armed forces, the military version of beating the computer in Tecmo Super Bowl to prove to yourself you really could have been a varsity running back in high school.
It’s also featured in plenty of Iranian propaganda videos — not that they give the context that it’s just a barge that isn’t nearly the size of an actual American aircraft carrier and has none of its defense systems, to say nothing of American fighter jets or sailors on board.
Here’s the 2015 attack:
This time, the Iranians hit the barge with one of their anti-ship missiles. They also had their troops descend via rope onto the deck of the fake carrier, where I’m sure they killed lots of fake American sailors. Two-to-one odds say at least one of them pictured himself doing away with Maverick and Iceman from “Top Gun.”
Unfortunately, after the fake fun was over, Iran was left with a very real problem.
As the knockoff Nimitz was being towed back to port in Bandar Abbas, it began to sink from the damage the IRGC had inflicted upon it. On July 31, the military analysis site Aurora Intel published this satellite imagery of the ship in a decidedly un-towable condition:
And here’s a closer look:
And since these things only get worse, here’s where it was as of Aug. 2:
The problem is that it’s in incredibly shallow water — 45 ft. — in a major shipping lane in the Strait of Hormuz, posing a serious danger for other passing vessels. Given that everything from tankers to passenger ferries goes through the area, this isn’t just an international humiliation, it’s also a solid threat to human life and commerce.
And for a country that’s really good at blowing up fake ships, it turns out Iran isn’t so good at retrieving them.
“Although Iran has recovered vessels and aircraft from the sea, it does not appear to have a serious salvage capability to call on,” Sutton wrote on Aug. 3. “This may be why it appears abandoned in the satellite imagery. Last year Iran did recover substantial parts of the U.S. Navy Global Hawk drone it shot down. But there are serious doubts as to whether any of this was salvaged from the depths. Floating wreckage is one thing, dismantling a large sunken vessel is another.”
In a follow-up report published by Forbes on Sunday morning, Sutton wrote that little had changed.
Paul Edward Roche, former president of the Irish Institute of Master Mariners, according to Sutton, said that the ship’s position “poses a distinct risk to commercial shipping approaching or leaving by the Straits of Hormuz because it is located east of the port approach” and was “an accident waiting to happen.”
“This wreck does not appear to be marked with navigation buoys,” Hutton wrote. “And even if it was, at night their lights might be drowned out by the lights of the town behind it. Roche believes that the biggest risk is at night or in reduced visibility such as a sandstorm or fog.”
Another problem: The ship can move, too, and given the conditions it’s more likely to move toward the port.
“If all measures have been taken and declared, there should be a minimum distance of 0.5 nautical miles between my ship and the wreck,” a ship captain told Hutton. “But this shipwreck can change position, so a distance of 1 nautical is more appropriate.”
Hutton noted ships had been passing within 1,600 ft. of the wreck.
As your mom would have said, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Yes, Iran making a miscalculation of this magnitude, particularly when the whole reason behind it was anti-American propaganda, is hilarious — particularly when it was perpetrated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s strange, parallel military arranged to protect the regime and not the country, which also happens to be listed as a terrorist group by the United States.
More sobering is the fact that Iran’s “Keystone Cops”-like ineptitude is now a recipe for potentially sinking a passenger ferry or spilling hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil into the Strait of Hormuz. Remember, this is a country that, just eight months ago, downed a Ukrainian airliner because it believed it to be an American-based threat. The IRGC was responsible for that, too.
Let’s hope there isn’t more blood on their hands once this saga is over.
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