Rising tensions in the Persian Gulf escalated dramatically Thursday, after Iranian forces shot down a US reconnaissance drone in international airspace. As well as the destruction of millions of dollars’ worth of US property, this shows how Iran is willing to violate international law to hide evidence of its crimes. How will the US respond? The president says the mad mullahs have made “a big mistake.”
In what the Pentagon says was an unprovoked attack, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps attacked and destroyed a RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft near the Strait of Hormuz.
- Since IRGC militiamen attacked two oil tankers with limpet mines last week, the world has been anxiously watching the Strait of Hormuz. A fifth of the world’s oil is moved through this narrow waterway, and Iran has the potential to cause huge disruption if it steps up its attacks on tankers.
- The US and UK have both started moving more military forces to the region to protect shipping. Part of this buildup is an increase in reconnaissance — like Global Hawk flights — to spot Iranian moves before they manage to carry out their attacks.
- If Iran can keep US drones away from the Strait it will be a lot harder to stop attacks, and that’s going to increase the cost of gas as tanker insurance fees rise. A full-on blockade of the Strait could be devastating for the global economy.
- So far, there are no details on how the IRGC managed to target the sophisticated drone. Iran is saying it was in their airspace when it was destroyed — an allegation the US strongly denies — but Iran’s sophisticated air defense network has the ability to reach out a long way past the country’s borders.
- The RQ-4 Global Hawk, nearly 48 feet long, with a 131-foot wingspan, is the largest US reconnaissance UAV. It’s capable of flying for more than 32 hours and scanning an area the size of South Korea on a single mission. It can fly 60,000 feet up at a top speed of 391mph, and is able to make it more than halfway round the world on a single tank of fuel.
- Because it’s not a stealth aircraft, the Global Hawk isn’t usually sent into defended airspace (which blows a hole in Iran’s claims). However, Iran operates long-range S-300PMU2 surface to air missile systems. These can hit targets at altitudes between 30 and 80,000 feet, and have a range of at least 120 miles — more than enough to hit aircraft over the Strait, even if the missile is fired from deep inside Iran.
- The S-300 systems are operated by the Iranian air force, not the IRGC, but the Guards have a track record of taking control of military systems they need. If they’re now controlling long-range SAMs, the chances of a war in the Persian Gulf just rose sharply. The US can’t tolerate a terrorist group like the IRGC shooting down aircraft in international airspace, and we’re going to have to respond.