"U.S. supercarrier detected by an Iranian spyplane near the Strait of Hormuz". Trivial as that could be the last thing that plane will ever detect.

According to the news reported by the Iranian news agency IRNA, an Iranian warplane involved in the Velayat-90 exercise has identified a U.S. flattop near the Strait of Hormuz.

“This shows that the Iranian Navy keeps a close eye on the movements of all ultra-regional forces in the region and checks their activities,” said the Iranian Navy’s Deputy Commander Rear Admiral Mahmoud Mousavi.

The news came the day after the U.S. 5th Fleet, based at Manama in Bahrain, said it would not tolerate any disruption to the freedom of navigation in the area after Iran earlier threatened it will block the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions against Tehran are toughened.

Some western media have added that the Iranian spyplane took some photographs of the U.S. aircraft carrier it detected.

My first comment to the news was that if the situation was really serious, that would be the last thing that the Iranian spyplane will ever detect for various reasons.

First of all, a carrier air wing made of about 60 aircraft. For example, when I visited the USS Nimitz involved in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2009, the CVW-11 was made by  20 F/A-18C (VFA-86 and VFA-97), 12 F/A-18Es (VFA-14), 12 F/A-18Fs (VFA-41), 4 E/A-6Bs (VAQ-135), 4 E-2Cs (VAW-117), 4 SH-60Fs and 3 HH-60Fs (HS-6), a “mix” that, with minor differences, can be used as a reference.

Hence, among the aircraft included in an embarked air wing (worth a small autonomous air force capable to perform a wide variety of missions), there are also some E-2C Hawkeyes, aircraft that can perform Air Space Management and Tanker Coordination tasks, to manage and deconflict planes (as done for traffic flying in the Afghan airspace during OEF tasks) and provide the “picture” to the ship’s CDC (Combat Direction Center) that can be literally interconnected to any other AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platform.

The CDC is responsible for the tactical management of all the missions launched by the carrier, by means of fighter and mission controllers whose radar screens can be fed with the tracks discovered at long distance by the Hawkeyes, one aircraft of those is always flying and ready to guide interceptors (both on alert and flying) to the identification of intruders that it can detect from several hundred miles away.

Then, a U.S. Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier does not travel alone (as recently done by the Chinese trainer Varyag) but it is the flagship of a Carrier Strike Group that usually includes two AEGIS destroyers,  a Ticonderoga class missile cruiser, a Perry-class frigate and, although they are not officially attached to the CSG, a nuclear submarine and various supporting vessel, whose task is, among the others, to defend the flattops from enemy aerial or maritime attack.

As you may understand, such a huge force does not go unnoticed. Neither it wants to as its purpose is to deploy the air wing wherever it is needed for a Crisis Support Operation or to “flew muscles”.

So, unless the news is that “an ex-US RQ-170 stealthy drone now remotely controlled by the Iranian military” has identified the USS Stennis approaching the Strait of Hormuz, the fact that a spyplane has spotted or even photographed from a long distance an American nuclear flattop is absolutely trivial.

And will not change the outcome of an eventual war.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. I did two Persian Gulf deployments on aircraft carriers in the 1990’s. We saw the Iranians almost every day (P-3 patrol craft, ships, sometimes helicopters). There is nothing at all unusual about the Iranians watching us and us watching the Iranians.

    • Yes, I know.
      And I remember that two Russian Federation Tu-95 have flown over the Nimitz two or three years ago. You can’t down a plane in international airspace/waters. What I meant is that a plane gets close a carrier only if the flattops is willing to let it get close. In war time, there would be no chances.

      • Yes, absolutely. A lot of times, the ship is meant to be an imposing presence and is meant to be seen. Believe me, if the spotters were not wanted, there’s a lot of ways to “convince” them not to get close.

  2. I agree that the news that the Iranians spotted a USN carrier in the Strait of Hormuz is no news. Considering that the 5th Fleet’s HQ is inside the Gulf, all US warships have to pass via the Strait, so what’s unusual? The Gulf is so narrow (some 25 miles/40 km at its narrowest) that even a good pair binoculars on each shore would be enough to keep track of who is passing through. So i would say that this is all propaganda fodder for the grass-root Iranians to boost the regime’s image. And, yes, i also agree that if an aircraft would go uncomfortably close enough to the carrier, it would be the last thing it would have seen.

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