WASHINGTON — The senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee says Iran's construction of a mock-up U.S. aircraft carrier demonstrates Iran's continued lack of good faith.
"We don't really know what it means, but I for sure don't trust the Iranians,'' Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said Saturday. "It's some kind of a ruse and whatever they are up to, it's no good.''
An Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute said the mock-up vessel could signal plans for "a new level of effort and sophistication'' in Iran's naval training for the use of "unconventional doctrine and capabilities to confront superior U.S. naval power."
"Their military has been investing heavily in traditional capabilities to deter the U.S. Navy from conducting major operations near their borders,'' AEI resident fellow J. Matthew McInnis said. "The desire to create more realistic training scenarios makes sense. Propaganda is certainly one of the motivations for Iran's military exercises, so I would not be surprised if they destroyed the mock-up during one."
A Defense Department spokesman says U.S. officials are not sure what tactical value Iran hopes to gain by building a mock-up of a U.S. aircraft carrier.
"We are aware that Iran has constructed a floating barge that resembles a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier near Bandar Abbas,'' spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Crosson said Saturday. "Commercially available imagery shows its construction.'' Bandar Abbas is a port city on the Strait of Hormuz.
The construction of the partially wooden Iranian replica first was disclosed Thursday by the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which operates in Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Arabian Sea.
Two Nimitz-class carriers — the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush and the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman — are currently operating in the Middle East.
The Navy has 10 operational Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, including the U.S.S. Nimitz, which was the first of the super-carriers commissioned in 1975. All 10 of the 1,092-feet-long nuclear-powered ships were built at the Newport News Shipbuilding Co. in Newport News, Va.
Since the disclosure Thursday, there has been widespread speculation that the Iranians could be planning to destroy it, for propaganda value, as part of naval training exercise.
The British Daily Mail has described the barge as a "crude model.''
CNN said one U.S. official described it as is more akin to a Hollywood set than an actual warship.
The New York Times was told by Navy officials that Iran has used barges in the past as targets for missiles during training exercises.
The Iranian Navy has had a few minor brushes with the U.S. Navy in the past in the busy international waters of the Strait of Hormuz, but the relationship has been, for the most part, professional.
"Our interaction with the regular Iranian Navy and Air Force continue to be within the standards of maritime practice, well known, routine and professional,'' the Pentagon spokesman said. "We regularly interact with Iranian flagged merchant vessels and exchanges have always been professional and courteous. They are aware of our presence in the region and we are aware of theirs. There has been no disruption to our operations.''