Iran batters dummy US aircraft carrier in Gulf exercises
Iran's Revolutionary Guards blasted a mock-up of a US aircraft carrier with missiles on Tuesday during military exercises in sensitive Gulf waters, state television reported.
The exercises -- dubbed "Prophet Mohammed 14th" -- were held near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane for a fifth of global oil output.
The US Navy condemned the "irresponsible and reckless behaviour by Iran", calling it an attempt "to intimidate and coerce".
The Iranian maritime manoeuvre was staged at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and its decades-old arch enemy the United States.
Footage of the war games broadcast on state television showed the Guards' air and naval forces readying for an attack off the country's southwestern coast.
Speedboats skimmed across the water in formation before ground forces fired cannons and a missile was launched from a helicopter.
The mock-up of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier came into view with rows of dummy fighter jets on either side of its landing strip.
The television then cut to rockets being fired out to sea from the backs of trucks, before showing damage to the hull of the mock-up aircraft carrier.
Another missile fired from a helicopter left a trail of smoke before appearing to smash into the side of the fake warship.
Armed forces were then seen rappelling onto the deck of the vessel, before around a dozen speedboats circled around it.
"What was shown today in these exercises, at the level of aerospace and naval forces, was all offensive," Guards commander Major General Hossein Salami told state television.
New long-range missiles were fired during the exercises, a spokesman said.
"Some surprise equipment and weapons were used, such as long-range ballistic missiles capable of striking offensive floating targets in the distance," General Abbas Nilforoushan said, quoted by the Guards' Sepahnews website.
- US response -
The US Navy 5th Fleet, which is based in the Gulf state of Bahrain, criticised Iran's use of the fake aircraft carrier which first appeared Monday in satellite images.
"We are aware of the Iranian exercise involving attacking a mock-up of a vessel similar to a motionless aircraft carrier," its spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich said in a statement emailed to AFP in Dubai on Tuesday.
"The US Navy conducts defensive exercises with our partners promoting maritime security in support of freedom of navigation; whereas, Iran conducts offensive exercises, attempting to intimidate and coerce.
"While we are always watchful of this type of irresponsible and reckless behaviour by Iran in the vicinity of busy international waterways, this exercise has not disrupted coalition operations in the area nor had any impacts to the free flow of commerce in the Strait of Hormuz and surrounding waters."
She had earlier stressed to AFP that "we remain confident in our naval forces' ability to defend themselves against any maritime threat.
"We do not seek conflict but remain ready to defend US forces and interests from maritime threats in the region."
The war games come only days after Tehran accused US fighter jets of harassing an Iranian commercial airliner in the skies over Syria.
At least four passengers on board the Mahan Air plane were injured in Thursday's incident, after the pilot took emergency action to avoid the warplanes, Iranian authorities said.
Tensions have escalated between Tehran and Washington since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2018.
The arch foes have come to the brink of direct confrontation twice since June 2019, when the Guards shot down a US drone in the Gulf.
Their animosity deepened after Iran's most prominent general, Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in January.
One of the most recent confrontations was in mid-April, when the United States accused the Guards of using speedboats to harass its warships in the Gulf.
© 2020 AFP