Using small patrol boats, the IRGC has approached at high rates of speed certain American vessels transiting the Persian Gulf, and sometimes those boats have refused to withdraw until warning shots were fired by the Americans, following upon visual warnings, sirens, and attempts at radio contact. But the latest incident was of a different type, involving the Iranian Navy instead of the IRGC and taking place in the Gulf of Oman, on the other side of the Strait of Hormuz.
US military officials described the incident as “unprofessional” but stopped short of calling it dangerous. They reported that an Iranian Frigate had come within 150 yards of an American surveillance ship, which was tasked with monitoring missile activity in the region. The new US president, Donald Trump placed the Iranian regime “on notice” in early February, following the test launch of an Iranian ballistic missile, the first of its kind since Trump took office but evidently the seventh since the conclusion of nuclear negotiations.
It is not clear whether the surveillance ship was specifically targeted for a provocative encounter by the Iranian Navy, but this would be in keeping with the defiant tone that the regime has struck in response to the Trump administration’s warning. In the second half of February, both the IRGC and Iran’s traditional armed forces carried out multi-day military exercises, during which high-ranking officers suggested that they were ready prepared for war and capable of defeating “enemies” such as the United States.
Whether or not Iranian officials believe such claims or are merely attempting to present an image of strength to domestic and regional audiences, the close encounters have certainly be used as a basis for Iranian propaganda, with some broadcasts on state television having claimed that Iranian vessels forced the withdrawal of their American targets instead of vice versa. Furthermore, the IRGC’s use of small patrol boats, often approaching US warships in groups, is reportedly intended to demonstrate the “swarm tactics” by which the Iranians claim that they could defeat much better armed and more technologically advanced American Navy ships.
However, the US is well aware of these tactics and has reportedly prepared for them, both by changing how ships in the region are outfitted over the years and by conducting very recent drills simulating the would-be Iranian swarms. On Thursday, Business Insider reported upon one such training exercise that had been carried out in Florida’s Choctawhatchee Bay.
The article indicates that this drill, designated “Combat Hammer”, was made more imperative by the fact that Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen had used a small boat in a suicide attack, killing two individuals on a Saudi Navy vessel. But the American drill reportedly confirmed what military experts had already determined, namely that attack helicopters on Navy warships would be highly effective at engaging and destroying swarms of small boats in the event that Iranian activities exceeded mere provocations and turned into actual attacks.