MANAMA, Bahrain — Iran is building a replica of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier at a shipyard on the Persian Gulf near the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. 5th Fleet officials said.
The mock-up of the aircraft carrier was first noticed last summer, 5th Fleet officials said, but it wasn’t until February that they saw the number 68 painted on it — the same number of the USS Nimitz, which was deployed in the region last summer.
“It’s interesting to us that they would be building something like this ... this is a head-scratcher more than anything,” said Cmdr Jason Salata, Navy 5th Fleet spokesman. He said the Navy is not particularly concerned about it.
The New York Times first reported on the mysterious vessel on Thursday.
A recent commercial satellite image shows the vessel with similar lines painted on top of it that a real aircraft carrier might have. There also appear to be three aircraft atop the structure.
Officials believe the mock-up is comprised of barges with steel construction to replicate the hull, and superstructure of a carrier. It’s about two-thirds the size of an actual Nimitz class carrier, which is about 1,092 feet in length.
Navy officials said they are sure it’s not a real aircraft carrier, but they are puzzled about Iran’s intent in replicating such a large American warship.
“If it’s designed for strategic effect, to what effect?” Salata said. The New York Times suggested Iran might use it to make a propaganda point, possibly to fire a missile at it as part a training exercise to be broadcast on state-run media.
Other countries, including the United States, have used land runways to simulate carrier operations. China has even built a mock-up of its sole carrier atop a training building near Wuhan, about 400 miles inland from the East China Sea. That facility appears intended to train crews in handling aircraft, logistics and weapons, as well as hangar placements.
The continuing rapprochement between Iran and the United States and its Western allies has been highlighted by the interim nuclear deal reached last November by which Tehran agreed to halt certain nuclear activities in exchange for limited relief from sanctions. Negotiations are continuing on a comprehensive accord that would ensure that Iran’s civilian nuclear program could not be used for military purposes.
As talks on Iran’s nuclear program continue next month in Vienna, the political and security situations in the Persian Gulf region remain delicate. Despite the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, U.S. officials have sought in recent months to reassure Gulf allies that the U.S. is fully committed to the region, irking Iranian officials who question America’s motives.
Earlier this month Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized the U.S. military posture in the Persian Gulf in a meeting with reporters in Tokyo.
“We do not believe presence of foreign forces is conducive to security,” he said.
This spring, two more U.S. Coastal Patrol ships are expected to homeport at the U.S. naval base in Bahrain, which is in the midst of a $260 million expansion.
The U.S. Navy is not seeking confrontation in the Gulf, said Salata.
“We feel that there is a balance of force that we need to do our mission,” which Navy officials commonly describes as partnering with allies in the region for maritime security.