Iran appears to be getting ready to send a warning to the U.S. as it has moved a mock aircraft carrier out to sea presumably to destroy it in a live-fire exercise.
The 650-foot long vessel with 16 fake fighter jets on deck – which bears resemblance to the Nimitz-class carriers that the U.S. Navy routinely sails into the Persian Gulf — was pulled by a tugboat into the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday, according to satellite images released Monday.
“We cannot speak to what Iran hopes to gain by building this mockup, or what tactical value they would hope to gain by using such a mockup in a training or offensive exercise scenario,” Navy Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich – a spokesperson for the U.S. 5th Fleet, which operates in the region – told Fox News in a statement.
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But Rebarich noted that the U.S. remains “confident in our naval forces’ ability to defend themselves against any maritime threat.”
“We do not seek conflict, but remain ready to defend U.S. forces and interests from maritime threats in the region,” she added.
An image from Maxar Technologies taken Sunday shows an Iranian boat speeding toward the carrier, sending waves up in its wake after the large ship departed the Islamic Republic’s port city of Bandar Abbas.
Iranian state media and officials have yet to acknowledge bringing the replica out to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil passes. However, its appearance there, the Associated Press says, suggests Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard is preparing an encore of a similar mock-sinking it conducted in 2015.
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During that drill, called “Great Prophet 9,” Iran swarmed the fake aircraft carrier with speedboats firing machine guns and rockets. Surface-to-sea missiles later targeted and destroyed the fake carrier.
The movement of the new mockup carrier comes as the USS Nimitz just entered Mideast waters late last week from the Indian Ocean, likely to replace the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea.
The Iranian vessel appears to be some 650 feet long and 160 feet wide, while a real Nimitz is over 980 feet long and 245 feet wide.
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Preparation for the apparent drill follows a series of attacks and incidents that ramped up tensions between the U.S. and Iran last summer. Those events reached a crescendo with the Jan. 3 U.S. drone strike near Baghdad International Airport that killed Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iran Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force. Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile attack that injured dozens of American troops stationed in neighboring Iraq.
The timing of the replica’s movement also suggests that a drill targeting it may be a direct response from Tehran to an incident last week, in which a U.S. F-15 fighter jet approached an Iranian Mahan Air flight over Syria, resulting in slight injuries to some of the passengers on board.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.