A guided missile destroyer on patrol in the Persian Gulf fired warning shots at Iranian patrol boats that ventured too close. The crew of the USS Mahan fired several shots from a heavy machine gun toward the armed Iranian boats, forcing them to break off a high speed run.
The USS Mahan was passing through the Strait of Hormuz when four heavily-armed fast inshore attack craft (FIAC) made a high speed run towards the destroyer. The FIACs were observed with crews manning their heavy weapons. According to US Naval Institute News, the destroyer attempted to warn off the Iranians several times via radio, whistle and warning siren, but when that failed fired three warning shots in their direction. The Iranian boats veered off.
Iran's large fleet of fast patrol boats have been playing a game of chicken with western navies the Persian Gulf for decades. During the 1980s, the Iranian military bought large numbers of high-speed watercraft-particularly Swedish Boghammer Marin speedboats-and outfitted them with 107-millimeter rocket launchers, .50 caliber heavy machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. Larger ships are allegedly armed with cruise missiles, mines, and torpedoes.
While these tiny craft don't have a hope of sinking a 8,400 ton Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, they could still damage the ship and kill or injure crew members. Although modern destroyers are fitted with spaced steel armor and kevlar spall liners to protect vital areas, a shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenade can easily puncture the aluminum skin in other areas, endangering the crew. The boats can also carry up to 20 troops for boarding operations.
Iran is thought to have more than 1,000 attack boats and trains to use them in "swarm" attacks of 100 or more each. The craft are controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a military organization separate from the Iranian armed forces and closely aligned with Iran's religious leadership. Many if not all of Iran's military standoffs with western navies are carried out by the IRGC.
The U.S. Navy takes the threat of swarming attacks seriously. While the more than 90 missiles on the Mahan are useless against tiny patrol boats, the Mahan has many other weapons that could fend off a fleet of armed speed boats. At longer ranges the destroyer has its Mark 45 5-inch gun which can fire up to 20 explosive shells a minute. The Mahan also has two MH-60R helicopters, each of which can be armed with Hellfire anti-tank missiles, M240 machine guns, or GAU-16 .50 caliber heavy machine guns.
At shorter ranges, a destroyer like Mahan has the Phalanx Close-In Weapon System. Originally meant to shoot down enemy missiles and aircraft, the Phalanx can now train its M61 20-millimeter gatling gun on surface targets. Mahan also has two 25-millimeter rapid-fire cannon, the same gun that equips the turret of the Army's M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, and numerous deck-mounted .50 caliber machine guns.
The episode appears to have been engineered as a show of force against the Americans in what Iran considers its backyard, and the only way to make such tiny boats the least bit intimidating is to get really, really close. The four Iranian speedboats in Sunday's encounter would probably have lasted mere seconds against the combined firepower of the USS Mahan. Fortunately things didn't go that far.
You Might Also Like