Iran’s recent seizure of a US Navy cruiser in the Gulf has shed light on a pioneering new Pentagon program that aims to improve its capabilities to monitor large areas with drones. air and sea, as well as the use of artificial intelligence.
This year-long program includes the use of various types of seawalls known as USVs in the waters around the Arabian Peninsula and in the Gulf to collect data and images that are then sent to established centers in the region for analysis.
The program did not face any problems until the Iranian Navy attempted to seize three naval parades of the 7-meter Saildrone Explorer during two incidents that occurred on the night of August 29-30 and on September 1.
During the first incident in the Gulf waters, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards ship was seen making a march to free him later after dispatching a US patrol boat and a helicopter to the scene.
During the second incident, an Iranian destroyer seized two Saildrone Explorer drones in the Red Sea and took them on board.
The presence of two US warships and helicopters allowed the Iranians to persuade them to return them the next day after the cameras were taken from them, the US military confirmed.
The Iranians claim that these marches were located on international sea lanes and therefore wanted to “avoid potential accidents”, a narrative rejected by the US Navy.
Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of US Navy Central Command, said Iran’s actions “were unwarranted and inconsistent with the conduct of a professional naval force.”
He added that US forces “will continue to fly, sail and move to any location available under international law.”
These naval drones carry sensors, radars and cameras and are controlled by the 59th Task Force of the Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain. This force was formed last year to develop surveillance capabilities in this region thanks to parades and artificial intelligence.
And aerial drones are advanced and have proven their capabilities, while drones operating on the surface of the sea are new, but essential in the future, 5th Fleet spokesman Commander Tim Hawkins told AFP.
Since the beginning of the year, the US Navy and its regional partners have deployed battery-powered Saildrone and T-12 Mantas.
The Mantas T-12 is equipped with a sail, wings, sensors and various cameras. It is designed to spend an entire year at sea transmitting data via satellite.
Headquartered in San Francisco, California, Saildrone operates nearly 100 walks around the world for clients including the US Department of Defense, oceanographic institutes, weather services, and groups that study fishing and pollution.
“After a comprehensive survey of Antarctica in 2019 and after sailing through the eye of a Category 4 hurricane last year, there is no longer any marine environment in which our cruise ship can operate,” spokeswoman Susan Ryan said.
In the Gulf, Hawkins said only that he was gathering information “to improve our monitoring of the surrounding seas and to strengthen our regional deterrence.”
But the Iranian movements are probably the main target.
Iran patrols the area and has intercepted and seized foreign merchant ships and harassed US Navy ships in several tense clashes in recent years.
The US Navy seeks to prevent Iran from shipping weapons by sea to Houthi rebels in Yemen and other groups, as well as helping to enforce sanctions against Tehran.
The main goal, Hawkins said, is to take the information collected by all kinds of roads, air, land and sea, and quickly analyze it with artificial intelligence.
Artificial intelligence helps detect unusual movements in the data collected by the marches that human observers may miss.
“We need artificial intelligence to monitor the things that need the most attention,” he stressed.
Hawkins said it was not clear why, a year after the program began, the Iranians suddenly decided to try to intercept some of these demonstrations.
He stressed that the United States is doing everything in public.
The program was announced last September, and in February the Fifth Fleet organized the 2022 International Naval Exercises with the participation of ten countries and more than 80 USV marches to test them in the Gulf.
The United States chose to have the 59th Task Force headquarters in the Gulf region, rather than in other less challenging areas.
According to the US military, part of the program is based on developing tactics and rules for operating these marches, including knowing how to deal with countries like Iran that are trying to pull them out of the sea.
So far, the United States operates these marches with manned ships in close proximity to intervene in the event of such an accident.
“Nobody can take anything out of the sea that carries the flag of another country,” said a US official. It is the sovereign property of our country and they have to return it.”