Key point: Tehran has long hoped that its threats to America's carriers might give Washington pause when tensions are high.
Back in 2015, Iran carried out a massive attack on a mock version of an American Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Tehran wanted everyone to know about it—state TV broadcasted the military exercise live.
It’s a revealing look at Iranian naval assault tactics, involving several waves of ships backed by helicopters and shore-launched missiles. The timing isn’t a coincidence. The United States and Iran are deadlocked over a deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
The Iranians built the giant, 1:1-scale mock-up of the carrier on top of a barge almost one year ago. Photos released from Iranian news agencies on Feb. 25 now show it as a smoldering wreck. The missiles Iran fired at it are very real.
But don’t panic. The exercise—known as Great Prophet 9—didn’t factor in American escort warships and warplanes responsible for defending real carriers. It was mostly just for show.
The exercise occurred near Larak Island near the Strait of Hormuz. On the island, Mohammad Ali Jafari—the chief of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps—and the head of the conservative parliament watched from stands.
First, IRGC navy speedboats performed a mining operation to isolate the “carrier” and limit its maneuverability. Dozens of small speedboats—each armed with an M-08 contact mine—swarmed around the mock up. Iranian state television claimed “a vast area was mined in under 10 minutes.”
During the second phase, the speedboats attacked the giant ship with 107-millimeter rockets. These are small rockets, and likely couldn’t sink a warship the size of an aircraft carrier.
But Iran could intend this tactic as a means to disable critical self-defense systems, such as radars, Phalanx CIWS self-defense cannons and missile launchers.
Next, speedboats armed with small cruise missiles—likely Chinese-made C-704 anti-ship cruise missiles—attacked the ship. These fast speedboats fired a barrage of 12 cruise missiles toward the mock Nimitz.
The third phase included a barrage of heavy, shore-launched anti-ship missiles. Iran launched two cruise missiles and two ballistic missiles toward the barge in a coordinated attack.