USAF RQ-4 Global Hawk drone by Bobbi Zapka (USAF, 2007)

Is the US at War with Iran?

What Happened to the US Military Retaliation After Iran Shot Down Drone?

Escalating situation in the Middle East following Gulf of Oman tanker bombings sees Iran shoot down US drone and President Trump order military retaliation, but what happened next?

National security officials in Washington are declining comment on media reports that US President Donald Trump approved military strikes against in Iran Thursday but then pulled back from launching them for unknown reasons.

Trump initially authorized attacks on a handful of Iranian targets, such as radar and missile batteries, as first reported by The New York Times.

Reuters reported that the Iranian government told the news agency that it had received a message from President Trump via Oman overnight, warning of an imminent attack on Iran.

Reuters said that Tehran’s immediate response to Trump’s message was a stark warning over “regional and international” consequences if US undertakes any military action.

Gulf of Oman Incident

On June 13, 2019, two oil tankers were near the Strait of Hormuz while transiting the Gulf of Oman. The Japanese Kokuka Courageous and Norwegian Front Altair were attacked, allegedly with limpet mines or flying objects, sustaining fire damage. American and Iranian military personnel responded and rescued crew members. The attacks took place a month after the similar May 2019 Gulf of Oman incident and on the same day the Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, who was acting as an intermediary between American President Donald Trump and Khamenei.

Amid heightened tension between Iran and the United States, the United States blamed Iran for the attacks. Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom supported the United States’ accusation. Germany has stated that there is “strong evidence” that Iran was responsible for the attacks. Iran denied the accusation, blaming the United States for spreading disinformation and warmongering. In response to the incident, the United States announced on June 17 the deployment of 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East.

Iran Shoots Down US Drone

On 20 June 2019, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) shot down an MQ-4C drone in the Strait of Hormuz near Kuhmobarak in Iran’s southern province of Hormozgan. The IRGC is designated as a terrorist organization by the governments of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United States Iran claimed it was in their airspace, while the US claimed it was in international airspace. An anonymous U.S. official initially claimed it was an MQ-4C Triton drone, but the US Central Command later confirmed it was a (BAMS-D) a prototype version of the RQ-4A drone, developed during the development of the MQ-4C. Four in total, of these prototype aircraft were built and they had been assigned to the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program.

Trump Calls Attack “A Very Bad Mistake”

President Trump decribed the shooting down of the Global Hawk drone as a “very bad mistake.”

“This is a new fly in the ointment,” Trump said Thursday while hosting a visit from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House.

“This drone was in international waters, clearly. We have it all documented. It’s documented scientifically, not just words,” Trump told reporters.

When asked if the action could lead to war with Iran, the president replied, “You’ll find out.”

Trump, answering questions from reporters, suggested the downing of the American drone could have been an accident, rather than a deliberate provocative action ordered by Iran’s leaders.

“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”

Iran Claims US Violated Air Space

Iran contends that the US Global Hawk drone flew into its air space, which was a “blatant violation of International law.”

The U.S. drone “conducted an overflight through the Strait of Hormuz to Chabahar port in full stealth mode as it had turned off its identification equipment and engaged in a clear spying operation,” Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Majid Ravanchi wrote in a letter to the U.N.

“While the Islamic Republic of Iran does not seek war, it reserves its inherent right … to take all appropriate necessary measures,” he wrote.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also defended Tehran’s actions, sharing Iran’s version of the coordinates of the drone’s flight on Twitter.

“We’ve retrieved sections of the US military drone in OUR territorial waters where it was shot down,” he said.

US Military Response

US Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees US military activity in the region, called the Iranian claims “categorically false.”

“This attack is an attempt to disrupt our ability to monitor the area following recent threats to international shipping and free flow of commerce,” Lt. Gen Joseph Guastella said in a statement he read to reporters at the Pentagon, adding that the drone was 34 kilometers from the Iranian coastline when it was shot down.

Guastella also said the Iranian attack risked harming civilians using established air corridors between the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

US officials said several naval ships have been dispatched to recover pieces of the drone from a debris field in international waters.

What is an RQ-4 Global Hawk?

The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk is an unmanned (UAV) surveillance aircraft. It was initially designed by Ryan Aeronautical (now part of Northrop Grumman), and known as Tier II+ during development. The Global Hawk performs duties similar to that of the Lockheed U-2, providing a broad overview and systematic surveillance using high-resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and long-range electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors with long loiter times over target areas. It can survey as much as 40,000 square miles (100,000 km2) of terrain a day, an area the size of South Korea or Iceland.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk is operated by the United States Air Force (USAF), while the US Navy has developed the Global Hawk into the MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance platform.

Each RQ-4 Global Hawk costs more than $222 million.

US Escalates Military Presence in Middle East

The U.S. announced this week it was authorizing another 1,000 troops, including a Patriot missile battery and additional manned and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, to bolster defenses at U.S. positions in Iraq and Syria, citing numerous “threat streams” that “link back to the Iranian regime.”

Earlier Thursday, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham warned if Iran kept pushing for a fight with the U.S., it may very well get its wish.

“He believes that we’re getting into a bad space, that his options are running out,” Graham told reporters after speaking with President Trump.

But while talking with reporters at the White House, Trump seemed to allow room for some diplomatic maneuvering.

“It could have been somebody that was loose and stupid,” he said of whoever ordered the attack.

He also said, “It would have made a big, big difference” had Iran shot down a manned U.S. aircraft.

The U.S. military said Iran first tried to shoot down a U.S. drone last week.

Trump’s Last Minute Reprieve

Donald Trump tweeted that he was ready to attack three Iranian sites on Thursday night folloing the Global Hawk downing, but he called off the strikes after learning that the retaliation would kill an estimated 150 people.

Cocked and loaded

“We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it,” he said in tweets,”‘not proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.” He said, “I am in no hurry, our Military is rebuilt, new, and ready to go, by far the best in the world. Sanctions are biting & more added last night. Iran can NEVER have Nuclear Weapons, not against the USA, and not against the WORLD!”

Iranian Nuclear Aspirations Drive Conflict

Relations have deteriorated since the USA withdrew last year from the failed international agreement that tried to limit Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Since then, the US has levied a variety of sanctions against Iran as part of what the a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, aimed at bringing Tehran back to negotiations in order to secure what White House officials have described as a more comprehensive nuclear deal that also addresses Iran’s missile program and its support for terrorist groups.

U.S. officials believe the Iranian government is feeling the pressure from the renewed sanctions. But in response, Iran announced increased production of low-enriched uranium as it seeks help from European nations to circumvent the US measures.

It would be a catastrophic mistake to allow Iran to continue with its nuclear programme.