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September 30, 2023

Iran’s Attempted Theft of U.S. Navy Saildrone Highlights Unmanned Vessels’ Vulnerability


By Aakanksha Nigam

The American forces dispatched a Navy coastal patrol boat, the USS Thunderbolt, as well as an MH-60 Seahawk Helicopter on August 30th to prevent the attempted theft of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet operated Saildrone unmanned surface vessel by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, or IRGCN in the Arabian Gulf.

According to Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a spokesperson for the Navy’s 5th Fleet, ‘A Revolutionary Guard support ship, the Shahid Baziar, was discovered on August 30th, towing a US Navy Saildrone in the Persian Gulf.’ On August 29th at around 11:00PM local waters  when the service’s 5th Fleet was transiting international waters it observed the IRGCN’s support ship Shahid Baziar unlawfully towing the unmanned Saildrone, which is part of the 5th Fleet’s unmanned Task Force 59.

After the Navy patrol responded to the incident, IRGCN disconnected its towing line from the USV after a four-hour exchange, and it departed the area without any further complications.

“IRGCN’s actions were flagrant, unwarranted, and inconsistent with the behavior of a professional maritime force,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and U.S. 5th Fleet (NAVCENT/5th Fleet).

In a separate statement Gen. Michael Kurilla, Commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), also added,”The professionalism and competence of the crew of the USS Thunderbolt prevented Iran from this illegal action. This incident once again demonstrates Iran’s continued destabilizing, illegal, and unprofessional activity in the Middle East.”

Nevertheless, the attempt underscores growing concerns regarding the threat of unmanned vessel capture. 


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