J.E. Dyer suggests that those riverine command boats were exposed to capture by Iran’s revolutionary guards because they were traveling a route intended to avoid Saudi waters.
The routine expectation that archipelagic transit will be accommodated by littoral states is a bedrock principle of the Law of the Sea. The Saudis may have had particular reasons over the years to be wary of extending that accommodation to some parties in the Persian Gulf. But thatâ€™s not a mitigating factor for a sea change in expectations that affects the United States, of all nations.
If this is why we took an especially dangerous route to move small boats around in the Gulf, itâ€™s a very bad portent for the international order. The Law of the Sea itself falling apart is a key development that means weâ€™re already in a world war, whether itâ€™s been formally declared, in Westphalian style, or not.
I note, for completeness, that the CENTCOM news release isnâ€™t convincing on the valid question of how 10 Navy sailors could possibly have exhibited the uniquely bad seamanship implied by the official explanation. It remains extremely unlikely that they failed to notice a navigation error taking them into Iranian waters. One mechanical error â€“ earlier disavowed by DOD, now resurrected â€“ between two boats doesnâ€™t so absorb the attention of two boat drivers and two navigators that everyone strays off course.
But it looks like itâ€™s â€œinteresting timesâ€ for the U.S. Fifth Fleet today. If, as seems probable, there are important things weâ€™re not hearing about the collapse of the status quo in the Gulf, those things are bound to be affecting maritime operations there. The situation is only going to get worse.
I think that the take-down happened in international waters. The Iranians would have known to the minute when the boats were leaving Kuwait, and their probable course to Bahrain, so an intercept would be simple. They know our ROE would be â€œDo not shoot EVER unless you are fired upon first. PERIOD!!!â€
So, if the Iranians jam our boats so they cannot communicate, and then swoop in close, itâ€™s almost a guaranteed outcome. They KNOW we wonâ€™t shoot first! So by coming in closer and closer with weapons aimed at our sailors, overwhelming them with numbers at point-blank, then on loudspeaker they say, â€œStep away from your weapons or we will slaughter you!â€ At that point, itâ€™s a fait accompli. Once our sailors step back from their guns, itâ€™s over. Next, â€œTake off your jackets and weaponsâ€ etc, until they are in t-shirts only. Then â€œKneel down!â€
Step by step they get their way, based on a deep understanding of our ROE and our responses at every stage. Once they have control of our boats, they can drive them to Farsi Island, and remove every single GPS device, radar, cell phone etc. Then, there can be no proof of where the attack happened. And worst of all, Obama and Kerry are happy to go along with the lie, in order not to upset the nuclear deal applecart.
I rarely pull out my dusty old trident, but in this case, here goes. I was a Navy SEAL officer in the 1980s, and this kind of operation (transiting small boats in foreign waters) was our bread and butter. Today, these boats both not only had radar, but multiple GPS devices, including chart plotters that place your boat’s icon right on the chart. The claim by Iran that the USN boats “strayed into Iranian waters” is complete bull$#it.
For an open-water transit between nations, the course is studied and planned in advance by the leaders of the Riverine Squadron, with specific attention given to staying wide and clear of any hostile nation’s claimed territorial waters. The boats are given a complete mechanical check before departure, and they have sufficient fuel to accomplish their mission plus extra. If, for some unexplainable and rare circumstance one boat broke down, the other would tow it, that’s why two boats go on these trips and not one! It’s called “self-rescue” and it’s SOP.
This entire situation is in my area of expertise. I can state with complete confidence that both Iran and our own State Department are lying. The boats did not enter Iranian waters. They were overtaken in international waters by Iranian patrol boats that were so superior in both speed and firepower that it became a “hands up!” situation, with automatic cannons in the 40mm to 76mm range pointed at them point-blank. Surrender, hands up, or be blown out of the water. I assume that the Iranians had an English speaker on a loudspeaker to make the demand. This takedown was no accident or coincidence, it was a planned slap across America’s face.
Just watch. The released sailors will be ordered not to say a word about the incident, and the Iranians will have taken every GPS device, chart-plotter etc off the boats, so that we will not be able to prove where our boats were taken.
The “strayed into Iranian waters” story being put out by Iran and our groveling and appeasing State Dept. is utter and complete BS from one end to the other.
The Riverine Command Boat (RCB) is a design based on the Swedish Combat Boat 90. It is a highly maneuverable water-jet powered shallow-draft vessel that can operate at speeds of up to 40 knots. The design has been adopted by navies around the world. The Swedish Navy has 150 of the boats in service while Mexico has 48, Norway 20 and Malaysia 12, the US 6 and the UK 4.
[T]here are a few serious questions surrounding the incident that remain unanswered. The two patrol boats (actually, Swedish-built CB-90s) were transiting from Kuwait to Bahrain when one (or both) of the vessels suffered a mechanical breakdown. Eventually, the boats drifted into Iranian territorial waters near Farsi Island, where they were detained by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The most direct route from Kuwait to Bahrain is along the western side of the Persian Gulf; Farsi Island is more centrally located. If the boats were following a direct route, they must have drifted for some time before reaching the Iranian-controlled island. If only one vessel was affected by the engineering casualty, why didn’t the second boat take it under tow? Why weren’t additional assets–including airpower–dispatched by 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain? The presence of Navy helicopters and F/A-18s overhead might have caused the Iranians to think twice.
And what about distress calls from the CB-90s to Navy command elements? Early reports suggested the Navy “lost track” of its assets. Perhaps someone can explain why the vast surveillance assets of the United States Navy couldn’t maintain radio and/or radar contact with a pair of patrol boats–or provide warning of Iranian activity. Major surface combatants (along with airborne assets) give the Navy an impressive SIGINT capability on the high seas; assuming we were tracking Iranian activities, it would be nice to know what information commanders had as the episode unfolded and how it impacted their decision-making.
There are also issues involving the commander of the boat element, believed to be the junior officer who issued the on-camera apology. Why did he offer no resistance when the Iranians began boarding his craft. Article II of the U.S. Military Code of Conduct states “I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they have the means to resist.” A CB-90 is heavily armed, with .50-caliber machine guns, GAU-19 mini guns and individual weapons for the crew. Obviously, no officer wants to see his command slaughtered; on the other hand, would it have been possible for the crew to resist, particularly with air support?
It’s also worth asking about the level of involvement by senior officials in Washington. Press accounts suggest that Secretary of State John Kerry was involved in the earliest contacts with Iran and spoke with his counterpart in Tehran no long after the sailors were detained. That quick response suggests the White House and State received early notification of the incident (reflecting the desired level of coordination). But it also begs another essential question: were senior officials micro-managing the episode from Washington, and decided early on to avoid a confrontation with Tehran at all costs.
How can an advanced, ultra-agile U.S. combat boat suffer a “navigation error” that leads to a terrorist state capturing its sailors? Tehran just revealed military ineptitude warranting a congressional probe.
The Swedish-designed Combat Boat 90 can make the sharpest of turns at high speed, stop nearly on a dime, maneuver like magic and, with its Rolls-Royce jet-propulsion system, can speed along at over 45 miles an hour in rivers and shallow coastlines while transporting 18 amphibious troops.
But what good is any of that if it falls into enemy hands?
There is something fishy about how such a high-tech U.S. craft can “stray accidentally into Iranian waters due to a navigation error,” as Defense Secretary Ash Carter described it on Thursday to Univision. The Pentagon had previously claimed engine trouble for an incident that’s humiliated the U.S., as Iranian video showed to the world 10 American sailors on their knees at gunpoint.
A retired operations commander for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, Christopher Harmer, told CNN the capture constituted “a severe failure,” charging that “either the naval leadership put these sailors in an impossible situation, or the sailors are professionally incompetent.” Harmer has researched the increased lethality of Iran’s submarine fleet for the Institute for the Study of War.
That one of the sailors would appear in an Iranian video apologizing may have actually violated the military’s Code of Conduct, which requires that a detainee give name, rank, serial number and age, but “evade answering further questions” and “make no oral or written statements disloyal” to his country “and its allies or harmful to their cause.”
Harmer told the Washington Times, “the U.S. Navy looks extraordinarily incompetent. … In its ability to transit boats without violating Iranian waters, they look incompetent to know how to deal with a mechanical malfunction, and now that they’ve been taken into custody, they’re apologizing.”
Harmer told CNN there was “no reason for a small vessel to be out that far and especially without escorting ships around it,” and “the Navy has to explain why you have small ships transiting 300 miles of open ocean.”