An Iranian gunboat fired rockets just 1,500 yards off the starboard side of the the Nimitz Class super carrier USS Harry S. Truman during its recent transit through the Straits of Hormuz, serving as another reminder of how easily things in the Persian Gulf could go from a tense calm to a shooting war with Iran.
The carrier, along with the destroyer USS Bulkeley and a French frigate, were nearing the end of their transit through the straits when the Iranian Revolutionary Guards came on the radio saying they were executing a small boat rocket firing exercise. The aircraft carrier and escorts had no time to deviate from their course. Even if they had, there is little room in the narrow and crowded Strait for evasive action.
If that rocket were to have struck the carrier, it could have set off a chain reaction of explosions on its deck. Even if it were to have impacted the ship’s island or areas of its hull it could have resulted in the loss of life and would have almost certainly resulted in retaliation.
NBC News reports that officials were quick to downplay the event, saying that the rocket was not fired at the carrier, only near it, and then goes on to say that the move was an unnecessary provocation and unsafe.
It is unclear exactly what the rules of engagement are under these types of circumstances, although being fired upon should clearly be grounds for return fire. It is likely that the commander made the call not to react at the time, although this call may have not been a clear one to make. It all depends on where the fast-boat was when it launched the rocket in relation to the carrier and the path rocket traveled before landing in the water.
Another unanswered question is what were the state of the ship’s close-in defenses at the time of the launch. 1500 meters is well within their reach, it just depends on what mode they were in (if they were activated at all) and what the trajectory of the missile was.