Monday 19 August 2019

Our drones are watching every American ship in the Gulf, says head of Iran's navy

Seized: Iranian forces board a British oil tanker last week. Photo: Morteza Akhoondi
Seized: Iranian forces board a British oil tanker last week. Photo: Morteza Akhoondi

Adam Taylor

A fleet of drones has allowed Iran to watch every US ship in the Gulf region and develop an archive of their daily movements, Iran's top naval commander said in an interview published yesterday.

The comments come days after US President Donald Trump said an American warship had destroyed an Iranian drone. The Islamic Republic denied that a drone had been shot down and subsequently released a video of a US ship that it claimed, without explanation, proved its version of events.

In an interview with a local news site, Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, the head of Iran's navy, claimed that drones watch every US ship in the region.

"Our drones have significant ranges and have no limitations in communication links. We have a complete archive of images of American vessels approaching from very far distances," Mr Khanzadi said in an interview with the Young Journalists Club.

He said there was "an immense archive of the day-to-day and even moment-to- moment movements of American forces, whether in the Persian Gulf or Oman sea".

Iran has recently bragged about the technological advances in its drone programme and promoted videos with dozens of drones running staged bombing runs.

Mr Khanzadi's remarks were greeted with scepticism by some analysts, who say Iran has often inflated its capabilities in a bid to rally domestic support and confuse foreign rivals. "There's more than an element of bravura in the claim" that Iran can watch all US ships in the region, said Douglas Barrie, a senior fellow specialising in aerospace at the Institute for International Strategic Studies in London.

Jeremy Binnie, an editor at 'Jane's Defence Weekly', said there was little doubt that Iran could track ships going through the Straits of Hormuz, a narrow waterway through which a significant amount of the world's traded oil is transported. "Their ability to track all those ships once they are in the Gulf is far more questionable," he added.

Mr Khanzadi's comments highlight the central role that unmanned aerial vehicles are playing in the dispute over the Gulf. Last month Iran shot down a US drone that it said had entered its airspace. In response, the US planned a retaliatory attack, but Trump called it off at the last minute.

Mr Trump said last Thursday that a US navy ship, the USS Boxer, destroyed an Iranian drone that came too close to it in the Strait of Hormuz.

The next day, Iran rejected the claim and said all of its drones had returned to their bases. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard later released video apparently shot from a drone tracking the USS Boxer.

Though it was not clear how the video proved that a drone had not been shot down, it did offer a glimpse into how Iran uses the unmanned vehicles to track US ships.

Since the US pulled out of a nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers and reimposed sanctions last year, tensions have been running high with Tehran. Last week, Iranian forces seized at least one British tanker that it said had entered their waters illegally.

In his interview yesterday, Mr Khanzadi said drone surveillance had allowed it to track the British ship. "We observe all the fleets of the enemy," he said.

Irish Independent

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