The U.S. Navy sailed its first drone boat through the strategic Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday, a crucial waterway for global energy supplies where American sailors often faces tense encounters with Iranian forces.
The trip by the L3 Harris Arabian Fox MAST-13, a 13-meter (41-foot) speedboat carrying sensors and cameras, drew the attention of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, but took place without incident, said Navy spokesman Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins. Two U.S. Coast Guard cutters, the USCGC Charles Moulthrope and USCGC John Scheuerman, accompanied the drone.
The trip saw the drone safely pass with the accompanying ships through the strait, a busy waterway between Iran and Oman which at its narrowest is just 33 kilometers (21 miles) wide. A fifth of all oil traded passes through the strait, which connects the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman.
“The Iranians observed the unmanned surface vessel transiting the strait in accordance with international law,” Hawkins told The Associated Press. He said an Iranian drone and at least one Houdong-class fast-attack vessel operated by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard observed the MAST-13 drone.
The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet patrols Mideast waters, particularly the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, to keep open the waterways for international trade, as well as protect American interests and allies. However, Iran views the Navy’s presence as an affront, comparing it to its forces running patrols in the Gulf of Mexico.