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The US President has announced that a drone has been shot down after failing to “back down” while flying within 1000m of the USS Boxer. The amphibious assault ship, carrying troops and equipment from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, was accompanied by a dock landing ship, destroyer, expeditionary sea-base support ship, and a USN tanker.

USS Boxer, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship. US Navy photograph

In a news briefing, Mr Tump stated:

“I want to apprise everyone of an incident in the Strait of Hormuz today involving USS Boxer, a navy amphibious assault ship.

The Boxer took defensive action against an Iranian drone which had closed into a very, very near distance, approximately 1,000 yards (914m), ignoring multiple calls to stand down and was threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew. The drone was immediately destroyed.

This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters. The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities and interests.

Setting aside the questionable value of making calls to a drone to “stand down” given the likelihood of the drone not being able to receive such radio messages, it is also a matter of some doubt as the severity of the actual threat posed by the UAV to a vessel such as the Boxer.

Iranian drones are no longer small, relatively short range RC aircraft: Ian hops to export the latest versions of its drones that are capable of 24hr operations and which carry sophisticated surveillance systems and missiles.

Presumably, the threat had to be sufficiently dire to warrant taking such action in international waters given that it was still some 1000m away. Setting aside a missile-strike against the ships, the only circumstance in which it might have been such an immediate danger would have been if the drone had been flying straight at the Boxer with the aim of hitting it, or deliberately interfering with flight operations. In either case it is highly unlikely that the US would have been so dismissive of the incident and would have instead made much of the fact that a physical attack had been launched against its ships.

The drone was apparently downed using ECM, breaking the command link between the drone and its operator. This would have led to it falling into the sea – rather than destroying it “immediately” as was reported by Mr Trump. It might also have allowed the US Navy to have retrieved it from the sea before it sank, allowing it to be identified and confirmed as Iranian.

The US convoy had already passed a number of Iranian vessels, one of which is reported to have approached within 150m of the US ships. Other Iranian assets such as fixed-wing aircraft have also “buzzed” the convoy – though no press reports were released at the time.

That said, the Iranians deny all knowledge of the incident, or having flown a drone close to the ships. In one tweet, a senior Iranian even suggested it might be an “own goal” on the US Navy’s part, in which they shot down one of their own drones. That seems somewhat implausible of course, and it is probably safe to assume it was indeed an Iranian drone.

(It is interesting to see that the ECM equipment on the Boxer was actually mounted on a small vehicle referred to as “buggy” – shown below – which was in turn strapped down at the aft-end of the Boxer’s flight deck. According to some US reports, this is in line with the latest US Navy practice in which vehicle-mounted weapon systems are carried on deck to add to the ship’s defensive capabilities. TOW anti-tank missile Hummers, for example, are sometimes used this way. In addition the sensor-systems of these weapons are also able to augment a ship’s short-range surveillance capabilities.)

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