On Saturday, 26 November, an Iranian patrol boat operated by the IRGCN reportedly pointed a weapon at a U.S. helicopter from USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN-69) as Eisenhower transited the Strait of Hormuz.
Eisenhower, which deployed in early June, has been in the Persian Gulf providing air support to the fights in Iraq and Syria. Officials didn’t say whether the carrier was heading into or out of the Gulf; my guess would be out. (The ship is probably not on her way home, however, given that her likely relief just completed COMPTUEX/JTFEX before Thanksgiving. Navy ships are no longer on a reliable 6-month deployment schedule.)
Reuters describes the encounter this way:
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the incident took place when a Navy MH-60 helicopter flew within half a mile (0.8 km) of two Iranian vessels in international waters. One of the vessels pointed a weapon at the helicopter, the U.S. officials said.
“The behavior by our standards is provocative and could be seen as an escalation,” the officials said. At no point did the crew of the helicopter feel threatened, they added.
It was not immediately clear what type of weapon was pointed at the U.S. aircraft.
Voice of America got some interesting additional detail:
An Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) boat pointed its weapon at a helicopter launched from aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Strait of Hormuz, a U.S. defense official told VOA Monday.
The official said the weapon pointed at the U.S. helicopter on Saturday resembled a “.60-caliber on a pole.”
“The actions of the Iranians were both unprofessional and unsafe,” the defense official told VOA.
The USS Eisenhower was transiting the Strait of Hormuz when the crew saw two small IRGC boats and launched a helicopter to see what was going on. That’s when one of the boats pointed the weapon at the helicopter, according to the defense official.
Now, the aircrewmen of an MH-60R know a .50-cal when they see one. If they’re calling the weapon something that looks like a “.60-cal on a pole,” it’s probable that it is, in fact, a larger-caliber gun mounted on a brace of some kind.
One possibility would be Iran’s new 20mm anti-helicopter gun, named “Arash” (for an archer from Persian legend). The indigenous weapon, declared operational in late 2013, has been tested and demonstrated in Iranian exercises over the last two years. (See video.) It could certainly be in service with IRGCN patrol boats now.
As the unnamed defense officials said, it was highly provocative and unprofessional of the Iranian boat to point a weapon at the helicopter. With even one sudden move at that point, the boat would have given the helicopter justification to shoot at it in self-defense. The Iranians in the Gulf are behaving like punks begging to be body-slammed and handcuffed.
Of course, they have done much worse than that, and they’re engaging in this brinkmanship because we’ve let them get away with it. From the extraordinarily dangerous rocket launches they conducted next to the Strait of Hormuz transit corridor in December, to the armed seizure of U.S. patrol boats in January (an act of war), to making provocative attack-profile runs at U.S. warships in August and September and providing the missiles launched at destroyer USS Mason off Yemen in October, Iran has been on a career of extremely bellicose provocation for nearly a year.
If we’re lucky – if God is looking out for us – we’ll get to 20 January without one of these incidents spiraling out of control.