The massive mock-up of an American aircraft carrier spotted nearly a year go accomplished its final mission today: being blown apart in a monumental Iranian war game in the Persian Gulf.
Some 20 missiles and swarms of Iranian gunboats took aim at the elaborate barge masquerading as the USS Nimitz, blasting massive holes in its structure as part of the "Ninth Great Prophet" naval exercises that took place near the very tense Straits of Hormuz.
Iran's gigantic carrier mock-up first made waves last March when it was spotted in dry dock east of Bandar Abbass. Clearly, such a big-ticket item was meant for the military to use as a target, but shortly after its presence was known, the ship was identified as an elaborate set for Sean Stone's (Oliver Stone's son) film about Flight 655, which was shot down by the USS Vincennes in 1988. The movie, titled simply Airbus, was said to be a joint venture between the American-Canadian owned Reel Knights and an Iranian "entertainment company."
Since that announcement, there has been very little talk about Airbus the movie and the mock-carrier was seen sitting in dry dock late last year, although all of its Nimitz-like markings were being covered over with gray paint. This "redressing" clearly had something to do with the recent missile tests that would see the prop getting pummeled by high explosives and raided by IRGC commandos.
Getting rid of contrast by painting the entire ship in a reflective gray treatment could be used to make the target more challenging or possibly easier for electro-optical or infrared seekers to see depending on the conditions and technology involved. If the paint had radar reflective qualities, the same could be true for a radar seeker, which are commonly used on anti-ship missiles. Or they could've just been painted over for geopolitical reasons.
Sinking a ship that looks exactly like a US super carrier, even with the Nimitz's '68' marked on its bow, could have been considered a step to far in terms of provocation at a time when Iran is supposedly trying to work out a nuclear deal with the US and other western nations.
The fact that Iran struck the faux carrier with a barrage of anti-ship missiles, then swarmed it with small boats and then landed commandos on it, has to result in an unnerving mental picture for American and allied ships' crews prowling the Gulf.
The IRGC navy chief, Adm. Ali Fadavi, discussed the exercise on state-ran TV, stating:
American aircraft carriers are very big ammunition depots housing a lot of missiles, rockets, torpedoes and everything else. A direct hit by a missile could set off a large secondary explosion... We have the most advanced sea mines which cannot be imagined by the Americans.
As originally predicted, movie or not, Iran's wanna-be carrier was attacked during a high-profile military drill in the sensitive Straits of Hormuz, with missiles blasting away at the big ship's flimsy facade. Because the big prop is just that – a carrier look-alike sitting atop a pontoon barge – it appears to have not sunk following the massive onslaught. As a result, this may not be the last time we see of this floating monstrosity. After some superficial repairs it could be used again and again in similar exercises.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com