The Navy Blunders When Confronted by an Iranian Drone

The U.S. Navy blundered and risked the lives of sailors and airmen by not shooting down an Iranian drone that was hovering very close to the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier.

by Stephen Bryen

An Iranian drone, described as likely “unarmed” hovered very close to the U.S.S. Nimitz during active air operations in the Persian Gulf, and just as an F-18, still higher than the drone itself was in the process of landing.

The drone potentially threatened the safety of the landing since it could move in between the F-18 and the carrier landing strip.  Indeed, reportedly the F-18 was forced to make a number of evasive maneuvers to keep away from the drone.

The Navy attempted to signal the Iranians, but since a drone is operated remotely the truth is you don’t know where the actual operator is and you cannot foresee his or her intentions.

In this picture released by Jamejam Online on Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, an Iranian made drone is launched during a military drill in Jask port, southern Iran.

Nor can you be sure that the drone is unarmed.

Iran has been testing suicide drones and has armed drones as well.

A drone can be stuffed with explosives and can blow up on contact.  That is what happened to Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers and their French counterparts in Iraq when they recovered what they thought was an unarmed drone.  When they picked it up, it exploded killing the two Peshmerga fighters and wounding their French comrades.

It is well known that ISIS is planning to use such tactics against American aircraft and an arrest has been made in Turkey before an incident actually took place.

Would the Iranians try such tactics?  There is actually no way to know.  Would we want to risk an F-18 and its pilot finding out?

Or alternatively the drone could just turn and fly into the F-18 with a good chance of the same result.

BAY OF BENGAL (July 14, 2017) An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the “Argonauts” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 takes off from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Malabar 2017 is the latest in a continuing series of exercises between the Indian navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and U.S. Navy that has grown in scope and complexity over the years to address the variety of shared threats to maritime security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elesia K. Patten/Released)

What is unmistakingly clear is that the Navy has no policy to deal with these kinds of threats.  Warnings are a waste of time: you don’t even know who you are warning, if in fact they ever get the message.

The right thing to do is to not tolerate any drone anywhere near any U.S. warship under any circumstances.

That is a plain and simple rule that if followed would put an end to any threat from drones coming from the Iranians.

The question to raise is why the Navy allowed this to happen?  The answer most probably has to do with the standard U.S. policy which is to give warning when there is a naval threat to our military operations in the Persian Gulf.  We have been playing a very dangerous cat and mouse game for too long with swarming Iranian missile boats, trying to take evasive action and even “go so far” as to fire warning shots most recently.

Moving a patrol ship or even a corvette or frigate may be a last resort strategy against Iranian fast missile boats.  But you cannot move an aircraft carrier quickly: it is a massive ship and takes some time to steer to another course.  In the case of both the missile boats and the drones there is no chance for something as huge as the Nimitz to get out of the way.

In this picture released by Jamejam Online on Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, an Iranian made drone is launched during a military drill in Jask port, southern Iran.

More than that, perhaps folks in Washington have failed to take note that moving out of the way is an act of humiliation and brings joy to the hearts of the Iranian provocateurs.

Some will say that we allow the Russians to buzz our ships, but why not the Iranians?   The answer is we should retaliate against the Russians, not by shooting down their jets but by returning buzz for buzz.  It is different with the Iranians where they only have third class, if lethal assets and are intentionally trying to show off and cause us trouble.  The Russian situation, equally true in the case of China is a political and strategic game.  The problem is similar but the response and answers are different.  Buzz for buzz is the right policy for Russia and China when they are provocative. 

Washington therefore needs a tougher policy towards Russia and China.  Washington also needs to stop Iranian threats.  One of our pilots could have been killed today in the Persian Gulf.  Behavior of this kind is unacceptable.

It follows that the Iranian drone should have been attacked and destroyed.  Let’s put a fence around our warships and let the Iranians know the policy is: this far and no farther.