Tag Archives: Persian Gulf

[Photo] Iranian P-3F maritime patrol plane “buzzes” U.S. carrier’s control tower

P-3F IRIAF buzzes USS Lincoln tower

New images show how close to the U.S. carriers operating in the Strait of Hormutz, Iranian planes fly.

We have recently published some images showing an F/A-18E Super Hornet escorting an IRIAF (Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force) P-3F flying quite close to USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf.

Here you can find some new photographs taken from aboard the U.S. flattop as the P-3F took a close look at the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (ok, it’s not really buzzing the tower, but it’s not that far away).


It’s unclear whether the “flyby” was conducted on the same day the Iranian plane was escorted by the Hornet; still, the new images not only prove close encounters in the region occur but they also clearly show the indiscreet Orion in the “exotic” IRIAF color scheme.

P-3F IRIAF back

Image credit: U.S. Navy via Militaryphotos.net (thanks to FdeStV and Kasra Ghanbari for the heads-up)


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[Video] F-15E Strike Eagles refuel from KC-135 tanker over the Persian Gulf

F-15E MO

A flight of F-15E Strike Eagles of the 366th Fighter Wing deployed from Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, receive fuel from a KC-135R Stratotanker belonging to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron during a mission over the Persian Gulf, on Aug. 30, 2013.

A unspecified number of Strike Eagles and about 300 personnel from the airbase near Boise, are deployed in Southwest Asia. The aircraft are based at an “undisclosed location”: most probably Djibouti, from where an F-15E contingent has been (covertly) operating for more than 10 years in support of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa as an Expeditionary Squadron of the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group, based at Al Dhafra, in the United Arab Emirates.

Top image credit: U.S. Air Force


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Some interesting details about the F-15E Strike Eagle crashed in UAE (while en route to Afghanistan)

On May 3, 2012, a U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft crashed in the United Arab Emirates.

Fortunately, both the pilot and the WSO (Weapon Systems Officer) ejected safely and were later rescued with minor injuries.

Although the first news agencies reported that the combat plane crahsed during a “training mission”, according to our sources, the aircraft belonged to a “section” of Strike Eagles of the 366th FW from Mountain Home Air Force Base, in Idaho, flying as “Cube flight” to Bagram, the airfield that has recently hosted Obama’s Air Force One on a “surprise visit” to Afghanistan.

Indeed, even if the aircraft crashed in UAE, where six U.S. F-22 Raptor fighter aircraft are currently deployed, the 366th FW is not involved in any anti-Iran military build up in the Persian Gulf region: along with the other Strike Eagles, the doomed F-15E was on its way from CONUS to Afghanistan via Moron, Spain (where they landed on May 1) and Al Dhafra air base, UAE.

At Bagram, the 366th FW’s F-15Es will replace the 335FS ones from Seymour Johnson AFB.

About a year ago, an F-15E was also the only U.S. Air Force loss in Libya.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Photo: Iranian maritime patrol aircraft buzzes the USS Lincoln aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz

“Tower this is Ghost Rider requesting a flyby”

“Negative Ghost Rider, pattern is full”

Many of you remember this memorable quotes from Top Gun movie. Imagine the same request radioed by an Iranian maritime patrol aircraft to the Air Boss of USS Abraham Lincoln, as the American supercarrier sailed through the Strait of Hormuz.

Obviously, the Iranian Fokker 27 that you can see in the following screenshots (from a BBC Persian footage) did not request any permission to buzz the “Island” of the flattop and was closely monitored from many miles away. Nevertheless they are interesting as they show a close encounter that is quite common in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.

Iranian Navy Fokker F27s have already performed low passes on other aircraft carriers in the past. Since they are turboprop reconnaissance planes they don’t pose a real threat to the Strike Group that doesn’t need to take any defensive action other than tracking the surveillance plane all time.

Aircraft carriers don’t even need to change their course if a spyplane pops up on the radar, provided that it is not armed and it doesn’t show an aggressive behaviour.

Something different happens if a more threatening formation approaches the supercarrier. For instance, when two Russian Tu-95s buzzed the USS Nimitz in the Pacific, the carrier launched some F-18s to intercept and escort the “intruders”.

Not only planes pay visit to the Carrier Strike Group in the Gulf: Iranian speedboats can be seen in the following screenshot, in close proximity of the Lincoln and accompanying ships.

Airspace violations – Episode 8

Previous episodes: Archive

The following episode took place about 24 years ago. However, it occurred  in the Strait of Hormuz, saw the direct involvement of U.S. warships operating in the 5th Fleet Area Of Operations amid heightened tensions, and involved also an Iranian F-14 (one of those has recently crashed during a mysterious night scramble).

Hence it is also quite topical since it gives an idea of what the above mentioned contributing factors can produce.

U.S. – Iran war games…24 years ago

(Iran Air Flight 655 shot down by USS Vincennes)

On Jul. 3, 1988, an Airbus A-300 (registration EP-IBU) operating as Iran Air Flight 655 from Tehran Bandar Abbas to Dubai was shot down by two ground-to-air missiles fired by the USS Vincennes, a Ticonderoga-class warship that was cruising in the Persian Gulf waters to keep a closer eye on the bloody and consuming war that involved Iraqi and Iranian armed forces.

Both missiles struck the fuselage, breaking off part of the tail and one wing and causing the death of all 290 people on board.


During the Iran-Iraq war in the ’80s, the U.S. presence in the region was significant in order to protect oil tankers threatened by both countries. Just one year before this incident, in May 1987, the guided missile frigate USS Stark was attacked by an Iraqi Mirage F-1 jet and 37 American sailors perished during the clash. Further  investigation led Captain Glenn Brindel to be blamed not to have defended its frigate against the attack.

Therefore, the U.S. Navy agreed that new and more strict rules of engagement (ROE) were needed in order to allow Captains to get a more powerful right to defend themselves and “fire before being fired upon”.

These premises constitute the roots which gave birth to the root causes of the tragedy.

The event

On Jul. 3, 1988, three U.S. ships were patrolling the Persian Gulf: USS Vincennes, USS Montgomery and USS Sides. Suddenly, the second one reported enemy fire coming from small boats belonging of theIRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps).

Responding the request of support from the USS Montgomery, the Captain of USS Vincennes ordered to step in the battlescene and engaged some IRGC boats for half an hour.

In a few minutes, some missiles were also launched and shortly after an Iranian F-14 was shot down in a great ball of fire.

In the meantime, in the more peaceful but busy environment of the Bandar Abbas airport, the doomed Airbus A-300 was ready for a short flight to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

After take-off, flight 655 was instructed by the ATC to activate the transponder (on the Airbus, the transponder ‘squawks Mode III’ identified the aircraft as neutral and civilian) and was requested to reach an altitude from 7,000 to 12,000 feet.
At the same time the USS naval ships in the Strait of Hormuz got another warning signal on their radar devices and identified it as a possible and serious threat.

During the seven minutes between take-off of of flight 655 and the launch of missiles, the U.S. naval units made several attempts to get in contact with the Iran Air A300: USS Vincennes tried to use the military radio channel of frequency 243.00 MHz used for emergency purposes and four other attempts on the civil channel at 121.5 MHz.

So how this incident occurred if many attempts to communicate were made?

First of all ICAO final investigation report proved that the A-300 was not able to receive communication on the military emergency frequency 243MHz with onboard radio equipment.

Instead, dealing with the attempts made on the civilian radio frequency 121.5MHz, the board of inquiry ascertained that the Iran Air crew did not pay the due attention during the first phases of the flight or did not realize to be a possible target of naval units.

The crew was in continuous communication with ATC and was therefore unable to hear the warnings issued on the civil aviation distress radio frequency. ICAO also determined that of the four warnings issued on this distress frequency, only one was considered clear enough to be recognizable by the flight crew as directed to them.

Forty seconds past this last recognizable transmission, the USS Vincennes crew fired the missile.

More in details ICAO stated that:

  1. The aircraft weather radar was probably not operating during the flight nor would normal procedures have required its operation in the prevailing weather conditions.
  2. The radio altimeters were probably functioning throughout the flight;
  3. Apart from the capability to communicate on the emergency frequency 121.5MHz, United States warships were not equipped to monitor civil ATC frequencies for flight identification purposes.
  4. Four challenges addressed to an unidentified aircraft (IR655) were transmitted by United States ships on frequency 121.5MHz.
  5. There was no response to the four challenges made on 121.5MHz, either by radio or by a change of course. This indicated that the flight crew of IR655 either was not monitoring 121.5MHz in the early stages of flight, or did not identify their flight as being challenged.
  6.  The aircraft was not equipped to receive communications on the military air distress frequency 243MHz. There was not coordination between United States warships and the civil ATS units responsible for the provision of air traffic services within the various flight information regions in the Gulf area.

Final statement summarised that: “The aircraft was perceived as a military aircraft with hostile intentions and was destroyed by two surface-to-air missiles.

After stating that the environment on board the civilian plane contributed to the incident, the ICAO inquiry led to a more bewildering truth on the chaos and strain that reigned onboard the US naval units.

During the seven minutes between the take-off and the shot down of flight 655, excited communcation were made among the Captains of US naval units in the area, clearly stating the doubtfulness of identifying the approaching aircraft.

The US Department of Defense admitted that “…there was growing excitement and shouting in the Combat Information Centre of the USS Sides about a commercial flight.”

In the very first moments the radar operator of USS Vincennes identified the radar track as “unknown-assumed enemy” as the “Combat Information Center” of the same unit identified it as an enemy F-14 fighter jet.

Two minutes later the Captain of USS Sides, assumed the non-threating nature of the aircraft but a minute later USS Vincennes Captain ordered the shot down.

The Aftermath

The US Navy never blamed its crew for the incident and excused it with the need of defending the crew itself and their ships from any possible threats.  On the same day of the incident, US President Ronald Reagan stated that USS Vincennes followed all the requirements for the interception of foreign aircraft and that the Captain on duty ordered the launch of missiles only for defense purposes.

On Jul. 13, 1988, Vice-Secretary Williamson declared before the ICAO Counsel how high the level of danger was during the event. He noted that on Jul. 3 all the US naval units were engaged on a large operation of pursuit against Iranian vessels and it could have been considered a real war theatre.

On the extraordinary session of ICAO Counsel (Jul. 13-14, 1988), the ICAO President stated that: “…fundamental principle that States must refrain from resorting to the use of weapons against civil aircraft must be respected by each State”.

Representatives agreed to blame the U.S. act and some pushed for a rapid approval of Article 3bis of Chicago Convention – at that time not yet ratified. In particular, USSR and Nigeria blamed the US to lead a barbaric and brutal campaign against free and innocent people.

At the end of the technical investigation, on Mar. 17, 1989 the ICAO Counsel adopted the following Resolution:

Having considered the report of the fact-finding investigation instituted by the Secretary General…and the subsequent study by the Air Navigation Commission of the safety recommendations presented in that report;
Recalling that the 25th Session (Extraordinary) of the Assembly in 1984 unanimously recognized the duty of States to refrain from the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight;
Reaffirming its policy to condemn the use of weapons against civil aircraft in flight without prejudice to the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations;
Deeply deplores the tragic incident which occurred as a consequence of events and errors in identification of the aircraft which resulted in the accidental destruction of an Iran airliner and the loss of 290 lives;
Notes the report of the fact-finding investigation instituted by the Secretary General and endorses the conclusions of the Air Navigation Commission on the safety recommendations contained therein;
Urges States to take all necessary measures to safeguard the safety of air navigation, particularly by assuring effective co-ordination of civil and military activities and the proper identification of civil aircraft.”

“Deplores”, “Notes”, “Urges”: nothing really effective to avoid repeating the incident.

24 years later the tension between US and Iran is at its highest peak ever. Let’s hope we are not going to witness another similar episode in the Persian Gulf. For sure, we would not feel very comfortable flying across the Strait of Hormuz these days.

© David Cenciotti & Simone Bovi

Above image credit: Irandefense.net