Iran built a large-scale dummy US Navy aircraft carrier in 2013-14. And then dramatically destroyed it in war games in February 2015. It was hit by missiles, rockets and even an explosive boat similar to those now used in Yemen. Images of its demise was the propaganda highlight of the ‘Great Prophet IX’ exercises. But it wasn’t truly destroyed, and has been outside the major naval base at Bandar Abbas since then. Recently it has been repaired and may be destined for another explosive demonstration soon. But it’s resemblance to a US Navy aircraft carrier is only fleeting:
You could be forgiven for thinking that Iran has built a copy of an aircraft carrier. Indeed at first glance the flat-topped barge has a superficial likeness of a US Navy super-carrier. It is instantly recognizable in terms of silhouette and proportion. But the similarities end there. It is nowhere near as close a copy as you would expect from a film company’s props department. There are no lifts, masts or weapons stations for example. More amateur dramatics than Hollywood.
The biggest difference is its size. It’s large, and its deck is stocked with fighter jets. But it is less than two thirds the length of the real thing and about half the width. And the aircraft are also scale models. In fact, half of the models are not of carrier-borne aircraft. The F-5E Tiger-II is familiar to Iranians because it is still in front-line service with the Iranian Air Force (IRIAF). But it is only used as an Aggressor aircraft in the US Navy and has never served aboard carriers. As an aside, it was originally conceived for use aboard small escort carriers, but that is unlikely to have been on the Iranian modeler’s mind.
After it was wrecked during the Great Prophet IX exercises it was towed back to Bandar Abbas, Iran’s main naval base. It was soon discarded, anchored outside the breakwater. Then in early August 2019 it was brought inside the protection of the outer wall. Repairs were carried out, the deck painted and fake aircraft put back on deck. As of May 28 it was still there. This is just yards away from where the the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Navy (IRGC-N) recently revealed their extra-large uncrewed underwater vehicle (XLUUV).
Interestingly a bulls-eye target has been painted onto the center of the flight deck. One possibility is that it is an aiming point for the Fateh-110 guided ballistic missile. These missiles are believed to have been used in the attack on US forces at Ain-al-Asad airbase and Erbil in Iraq in January this year. It is believed to have an anti-ship capability and was reportedly used in the 2015 exercise.
When the carrier is next ceremoniously scarified, the slow death may include a demonstration of new weapons. These could include the indigenous Jask-2 submarine launched anti-ship missile. More interestingly from an intelligence standpoint, we may see remote-controlled explosive boats similar to those employed by Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen.
The carrier may be wrong in terms of realism. And it is not a convincing surrogate for a real carrier in terms of damage assessment. But it makes dramatic propaganda which after all, may be the real purpose.