You have got to hand it to the Iranians, when it comes to arts and crafts they really do aim high. Last year we had the "unveiling" of the unquestionably questionable F-313 "fighter" and this year we get a truly gargantuan impressionistic interpretation of a Nimitz Class super carrier, complete with fake jets!
This thing has been under construction since summertime at Iran's Shipbuilding and Offshore Industries complex about 18 miles west of Bandar Abbas. The dressed up mega-barge of sorts appears to be more of a movie prop than any sort of weapons platform, although I have a feeling that its starring role will be anything but a love story.
US Navy and the American press seem baffled as to the precise utility that this elaborate contraption will provide beyond the Iranians just blowing it up and making the obligatory "look at what we can do to your big bad aircraft carriers America" propaganda statement. Although Iran's use of less than believable computer aided imagery is widely acknowledged, they could have paid for a Spielberg quality digital clip for less than what this monster is surely costing.
The best bet is that this thing is a target first and a convenient propaganda tool second. Iran has been trying to develop a relatively short range anti-ship ballistic missile for some time, and they have been parading around just that in the form of their "Khalij Fars" (which literally means Persian Gulf) missile for a few years now.
There have been rumblings that the Iranians have equipped this missile, which is said to have a range of over 100 miles, with a simple but effective electro-optical sensor. If so, this missile most likely utilizes a fairly archaic "man in the loop" guidance concept, similar to what was fielded on the American "Walleye" and GBU-15 munitions. Such a targeting and control concept has the operator staring at a monitor to lock up the target for terminal guidance or they visually steer the missile right into the target via a simple data-link. Even a newer version that can automatically target what it thinks is most likely an aircraft carrier is now a possibility. There is no reason why this system would be out of Iran's technological reach, especially seeing as the North Koreans and others are always just a phone call and some cash or crude oil away from lending a helping hand.
With all this in mind, this super-sized floating target will most likely be used to publicly test a barrage of Khalij Fars missiles at the end of a major Iranian maritime war game. If it goes decently well the image of the rockets impacting all over a test target that looks like a US Carrier will be shown on Iranian TV, and thus around the world. By doing so Iran shows the world that they have another military capability that will help deny western ships access into the Persian Gulf, while at the same time capturing dramatic propaganda imagery of what attempting to sail an aircraft carrier into the region will result in during a time of war. Win-Win.
I do have to stress that although the Khalij Fars is technically an anti-ship ballistic missile, it is in no way even near the Chinese DF-21D long range anti-ship ballistic missile in concept, scope, or purposed capability. In fact the Khalij Fars is not even within the last quarter decade of technological complexity when compared with what a modern, long range, ASBM is defined as. But the headline "Iran Proves It Has Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles, Carriers At Risk" is a powerful one for the layman to read. That is not to say that a high-speed weapon system like the Khalij Fars is totally useless, but it would be more relevant if it was used in very large numbers as an overwhelming first strike weapon, and if autonomous terminal guidance is added to the munition's rudimentary and potentially vulnerable targeting interface that it most likely currently possesses currently.
Although pummeling this floating façade with ballistic missiles is most likely the contraption's central mission, that does not mean that other capabilities cannot have their turn at it as well. During one of Iran's large scale war games, where there is almost always some new "unveiling" of a "cutting edge" capability, we may first see Iranian special forces landing on the ship via helicopter and "securing it". Once they have vacated, Iran's robust fleet of fast attack and missile boats can swarm the hulk, ripping into it with machine gun fire and line of sight missile systems. Then the faux-carrier may get barraged by anti-ship cruise missiles, or even torpedoed by a Iranian submarine. The design of this barge most likely consists of a compartmentalized "filler" structure, basically large hollow box-like cells that would "fill in" the craft's hull and add buoyancy. If inert warheads are used, (missiles and bombs without their high explosive warhead), there is no reason why such sustained weapons employment could not take place.
Seeing as the US builds entire mock towns to train in (this one is just for the SEALs), has what amounts to a mock country's military sitting in the deserts of America's southwest, and actually sinks real mothballed carriers for weapons testing, why are the Iranians so outlandish for trying something similar? Considering how Iran has worked historically, especially the fanatically IRGC, doesn't it make sense that they would opt to get some great propaganda visuals at just the cost of some paint and some fake F/A-18s? Regardless of the motivation behind it, when I first saw this huge cheesy mockup I could not help but think of this holy grail for young boys growing up in the 1980's:
In the end, you cannot blame Iran for building their own USS Flagg, as so many of us still despise our parents a tiny bit for not making the ultimate in '80s kid material dreams come true! No, but seriously, this whole endeavor does make clear sense in relation to current Iranian weapons development and their historical training style. Now I can't wait to watch them blow it to smithereens.
Pictures via Digital Globe, Fars News, public domain, and most likely some brave soul working in that Iranian dockyard!