Hunting in the Persian Gulf

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Hunting in the Persian Gulf


J une 20, 2019 was in a sense a turning point in the history of hard encounters between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States. On that historic day, a US surveillance drone was detected, tracked, and downed by Iran’s air defense systems. Immediately after the downing, Iranian officials declared that the US drone had several times violated Iranian airspace and had been downed as a result. The matter was of such gravity that the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Admiral Shamkhani, gave his own warning. Without mentioning any country by name, he said Iran’s FIR (flight information region) is the Islamic Republic’s redline, and it makes no difference the aircraft of what nationality violates it, Iran has always responded and will always respond to such violations firmly.

The US military’s surveillance flights, which had for some time been carried out with P-8 helicopters, and MQ-9 and RQ-4 drones, took on a new form with the stationing of an RQ-4 BAMS-D in the Emirates’ al-Dhafra Air Base in 2018. The significance of that new development was that the Global Hawk version with the serial number 166510 would be flown to test the sensors used on the MQ-4C, which is planned to replace Poseidon P-8 aircraft. The sensors used on this drone are capable of picking up and analyzing weak radio waves, which means the Global Hawk can detect the types of various radars based on their radio waves, can locate them, and can present a clear picture of the radar and defense network in the area it is surveying.

Northrop Grumman has earlier estimated that, in a potential conflict with Iran, the US military would need 7 or 8 Global Hawk drones above Iran to provide the necessary coverage. In a broader estimate, the company’s analysts said the US military would ultimately need 16 Global Hawks to complete its surveillance jigsaw puzzle of the country and to be able to fully monitor Iran’s ballistic missile activities or the development of a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program and to plan limited or large-scale operations.

The circumstances of Iran’s downing of the Global Hawk drone are more or less clear to all. But its main significance would be with regards to regional developments. In the Yemen war, Saudi Arabia’s coalition building capability (however limited) had impressed public opinion both in Iran and among its allies and in the world. On the other hand, the failure of Iranian vessels and aircraft to aid Yemen and the targeting of Sana’a airport had led analysts to believe that Iran did not have the resolve to reciprocate militarily after the conclusion of the JCPOA (the Iran deal). Furthermore, Israel’s repeated strikes in Syria and successive claims by Israeli regime officials that those strikes targeted Iranian-linked infrastructure permanently hung like a Damocles’ sword above the head of Iran’s allies. And lastly, the fierce psychological warfare by the US media that the US would harshly respond to Iran in case its interests were targeted had led military observers to believe that Iran was militarily on the back foot.

Yet, the targeting of the US surveillance drone could be carrying two main messages to regional and extra-regional countries: 1. The downing of the drone proved to political and military observers that the Islamic Republic has an unimaginable combat capability to confront any aggression on any level. Prior to that development, the Americans believed that their super-advanced, stealth, and undetectable drone was basically invincible; but, contrary to all predictions, the unimaginable materialized. And perhaps even to this day, military observers are bewildered by Iran’s response. Also of great significance was the targeting of the Global Hawk with the Khordad-3 air defense system, which is a fully indigenous Iranian system. The downing of the expensive, 220-million-dollar aircraft with an entirely Iranian-made air defense system proved Iran’s capabilities and the truthfulness of Iranian commanders and officials when they spoke of the Islamic Republic’s deterrence and military power. Contrary to the common belief in the West, the Islamic Republic of Iran has the equipment and the incredibly high capability to fight against all of the enemy’s matériel and weapons; and the downing of that stealth and undetectable drone was an explicit message to hostile military strategists.

2. The second message of the successful hunt was that of Iran’s full resolve to confront violations. Iran’s Leader has repeatedly and explicitly declared that the era of hit-and-runs is over. Before the brave move by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)’s air defense units in June 2019, American officials were of the belief that the Islamic Republic is incapable of firmly responding to American threats and violations. That misperception was based on their experience from previous fighting, especially the 2003 war, in which, without anything to back his threats up, Saddam Hussein volubly threatened the Americans but did nothing in practice to fight back. The downing of the American drone following its intrusion into Iranian airspace sent the unmistakable message to the Americans that they should have a realistic attitude and make no miscalculations regarding the Iranian nation and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Armed Forces.


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