On July 28, 2020, the Iranian military conducted a kinetic offensive drill against a mock-up dummy of a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz. The live-fire attack against the replica ship marked the beginning of Iran’s Payambar-e A’zam 14, or Great Prophet 14, annual military exercise. Broadcast on state TV, the exercise is held by the Revolutionary Guard Corps and showcases Iranian air and naval power.
The targeted mock U.S. carrier is a scale replica of the USS Nimitz built on a barge. The ship even features fake aircraft. Five years ago, it was used during Great Prophet 9 and sustained enough damage during the attack to take it out of action. It was repaired recently to partake in Great Prophet 14.
Unable to match western superpowers like the United States in a conventional fight, Iran focuses more on asymmetrical warfare. Great Prophet 14 demonstrated these military capabilities. Combat divers placed and detonated a contact mine on the hull, fast boats circled the ship and troops fast-roped from a helicopter onto the ship’s deck.
Iranian forces also launched a number of missiles from the land, air and sea during the exercise. A helicopter-launched Chinese C-701 anti-ship missile targeted the mock carrier and struck its hull. The missile fire put US troops at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the UAE and Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar on alert.
USS Ronald Reagan and Carrier Strike Group Five (US Navy)
The exercise received criticism from the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. “The US Navy conducts defensive exercises with our partners promoting maritime security in support of freedom of navigation; whereas, Iran conducts offensive exercises, attempting to intimidate and coerce,” said Fifth Fleet Spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich.
While the exercise showcased a number of Iranian military assets attacking the mock carrier, it is highly unlikely that these tactics would be effective against the real deal. Between airborne early warning aircraft, combat air patrols, destroyer escort screens and its own defense systems like the Phalanx CIWS, an American aircraft carrier is one of safest places to be during an Iranian attack. To paraphrase the late, great Bruce Lee, mock carriers don’t fight back.