WASHINGTON (Dispatches) – Iran’s downing of an intruding U.S. drone earlier this year has had a catastrophic impact on its military capabilities, with America left with just two more of the massive, costly unmanned vehicle, the Navy says.
A statement published by the U.S. Naval Institute’s news outlet said that following the downing, two more of the Navy’s most advanced spy drones recently suffered crashes in the Middle East.
An RQ-4A Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator (BAMS-D) "struck foreign object debris (FOD) during takeoff while supporting operations in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of responsibility” on November 26, the Navy said. No personnel were injured, but the incident "resulted in damage to the port side of the aircraft,” according to the statement.
This drone model, also known as the Global Hawk, is estimated to cost some $180 million and was previously involved in a 2012 crash during a training flight in Maryland. CNN reported at the time that the U.S. Navy had acquired five of the aircraft.
More recently, the Global Hawk was shot down by Iran in a dramatic surface-to-air missile strike over the Strait of Hormuz in June. The United States Naval Institute estimated that the attack, coupled with the latest loss, leaves the Navy with only two more of its original fleet of five drones that the Pentagon was reportedly having second thoughts about.
Citing current and former U.S. military officials, Foreign Policy reported last month—prior to the latest incident—that the Air Force was looking to retire 21 of its own 35 RQ-4 Global Hawks. The proposal has been reportedly submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and came as the newer MQ-4C Triton was set to replace the system.
The reported move also, however, came amid the growing capabilities of near-peer competitors like Russia and China, as well as increasingly powerful tools being developed by other powers like Iran, Newsweek said.
The Islamic Republic held a massive air defense war games exercise last month covering an area roughly the size of the U.S. state of California. The drills, which a senior Iranian military official touted as utilizing "world-class” and "cutting-edge” anti-aircraft systems, were held just as the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln sailed through the same Strait of Hormuz where the Pentagon drone was downed over the summer, the magazine wrote.
Iranian Army Air Defense Brigadier General Alireza Sabahifard said his forces would "practice the toughest and most realistic combat conditions” and that the war games would take place especially in the Strait of Hormuz.
He added: "I advise enemies not to put us to the test, because conducting such a test and entering the sky of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as shown in the past, will lead to no achievements for them, except humiliation.”
The critical waterway is considered the world’s most important maritime oil chokepoint and has been a flashpoint for worsening
tensions after Washington’s deployment of additional forces and military assets to the waters.
The Global Hawk shot down by Iran can remain in flight for up to 30 hours, potentially covering around 9,000 miles, hitting 65,000 feet in height.
Former Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Friday that Iran should be met with "some sort of retaliation” for taking the U.S. aircraft out of the sky.
President Donald Trump boasted that he pulled back potential "retaliatory” strikes for the downing of the American drone.
Mattis on Friday admitted that the decision to "retaliate” is not an easy choice to make. "Once you enter into this, you’re entering into a fundamental unpredictable phenomenon. It is war, or a war like act,” he said.
Following the shoot down of a U.S drone in 2011, Mattis, then head of U.S. Central Command, wanted a strong, direct response to the Iranian military.
"I proposed to Washington that we launch another drone on the same track, position a few F-18 aircraft out of sight, and shoot down the Iranian aircraft if it attacked the drone,” he wrote in his new book "Call Sign Chaos.” "The White House refused to grant permission.”
Mattis was ultimately relieved from that post in part because of his aggressive stance towards Iran, in contrast with Obama administration policies.