Sunday, January 13, 2008

Away sea boat's crew!

The naval incident in the Strait of Hormuz has rapidly been blogged into next week; I think there may still be some angular momentum to be had, though. It now looks like the USN is backing off from the claim that the voice taunting them on an open radio channel was someone aboard one of the Iranian boats; typically for the area, there were many other vessels of many nations around, and it could have been anyone.

I'm also mildly sceptical of how Iranian or how military they were; the craft on the photos released doesn't look like anything belonging to a navy or any other kind of military organisation and doesn't have any obvious armament. It's just a pretty standard skipper's skimming dish with three or so huge outboards. Further, the UAE and Omani coasts facing that way are notorious for smuggling, and the capabilities and skills needed for running contraband are identical with those for coastal-forces warfare. So much so that the US Navy Seals' boats were designed by a boatbuilder whose major clients were cocaine smugglers, and the earlier Higgins boat had quite a lot in common with craft used during Prohibition to bring in booze. Certainly the "white objects" chucked in the sea sounds a lot like a group of smugglers spotting a big grey government-looking ship and deciding to ditch the cargo.

Jim Lobe apparently reckons this is part of a generalised push by the adults in the State Department and the Navy to get an agreement on the prevention of incidents at sea signed; it seems a complicated way to get at it, but then, this blog's motto should be "It's complicated." On the other hand, it's a safe sort of time to tweak the US Navy's tail; carrier readiness is not unusually high, and the USAF's F-15 maintenance crisis must be an extra drain on the Truman's air wing. However, if the Iranian government was keen to get the incident agreement signed, which might mean some implicit recognition of their claims in the Straits, this could have been just the ticket as a reminder.

There's something highly amusing, too, about the debate around what kind of an accent that radio voice had; in the early 1980s, Sandy Woodward took part in an exercise between the 5th Fleet and the UK Armilla patrol. The British group consisted of the County class destroyer Antrim, three T12 frigates and a fleet tanker; hardly formidable, especially as only Antrim had any surface-to-surface missiles. The US had the carrier Coral Sea and her task force; Woodward's solution was to manoeuvre randomly until the formal kick-off, then have everyone move in under radio and radar silence, trying to blend into the merchant traffic. Eventually Antrim was challenged, at which point they replied posing as an Indian liner by dint of imitating Peter Sellars; this worked and they approached to within 20 miles, in range to simulate an Exocet launch. (Conspiracy theory: it was the British.)

1 comment:

Sir S said...

As an aside, reading the Daily Yomiuri in a sidebar I noted that two American carrier-borne planes crashed (with no harm to their pilots) in the sea the very same day of the incident. Strangely coincidental, I don't recall the last time I read of such an event.

I have an image of typically competent US forces panicking at the sight of 3 Iranian speedboats, and crashing into one another in panic...

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