Satellite imagery shows Iran repairing the U.S. carrier mock-up it previously targeted during the Great Prophet 9 military exercise in February 2015. The first signs that Iran may have renewed plans for the mockup occurred between July and August 2019. At the time, workers relocated the barge inside the breakwaters at Bandar Abbas naval base to begin repairs.
While work was not initiated until October, imagery acquired in November shows substantial patchwork already completed as well as ongoing reconstruction of the lattice structure supporting the barge’s deck. The steady increase in repairs suggests that it could be used in an upcoming military exercise before the end of the Iranian year in March 2020.
It’s expected Iran will likely target the barge inside the Strait of Hormuz to demonstrate its capabilities against a would-be aggressor. During the previous 2015 exercise, Iran struck the mock-up with multiple land-based anti-ship cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, fast attack craft, as well as suicide vessels. A final phase saw Iranian Special Forces fast-rope from helicopters onto the barge surface and attack the mock-up’s superstructure.
Iran’s ongoing signaling of its ability to strike U.S. assets in the Strait of Hormuz further reiterates its anti-access/area denial strategy. It is also keenly aware that any potential disruption to trade flows would likely impact the global economy. According to data collected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, approximately 21 million barrels flowed through the vital chokepoint in 2018.
In light of the U.S. assassination of Qassim Suleimani and retaliatory strikes against U.S. positions in Iraq, Iran rehearsing an attack against a U.S. carrier would serve to further inflame tensions. At present, it’s unknown if Iran has planned other escalating measures.
Bottom Line – Iran will likely demonstrate its ability to attack a U.S. carrier in the Gulf before the end of the Iranian year, but repairs to the barge began before the recent tensions around Suleimani’s death.