In a highly unusual development, a US Navy submarine sailed at periscope-depth somewhere in the North Arabian Sea, close to an ongoing Iranian military exercise, amid heightened tensions between the two countries.
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There have been fears of military escalation in the region during the death anniversary of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike on January 3 last year.
The submarine wasn’t just another boat. It was America’s largest-ever, currently operational cruise missile submarine, identified by experts as USS Georgia (SSGN 729), an Ohio-class guided-missile submarine.
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The US Navy has a total of 18 Ohio-class boats which consist of 14 ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), and four cruise missile submarines (SSGNs). The SSBN submarines provide the sea-based leg of the US nuclear triad, armed with up to 24 Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).
Each SSGN is capable of carrying 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles, along with Harpoon missiles, to be fired through their torpedo tubes. The Iranian military did not identify the submarine type but was analyzed by experts worldwide.
The submarine was filmed by the Iranian Navy’s Sea King helicopter when it was detected near an ongoing Naval exercise named ‘Eqtedar’. The two-day exercise commenced on January 13 and involved some of Tehran’s newest naval hardware including its Fateh-class submarine firing a torpedo for the first time from the recently-commissioned Markran ship, and the latest Sina-class fast-attack craft.
1:00 am at Baghdad Int Airport
Despite #COVID19, Iraqis felt they had to commemorate the martyrdom of General Qasem Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis & their companions in the war on ISIS
They protested against the US occupation & reaffirmed the strong bonds between Iraq & Iran pic.twitter.com/JXI8ivn2SA
— Seyed Mohammad Marandi (@s_m_marandi) January 3, 2021
According to Joseph Trevithick writing for TheDrive, it’s extremely rare to see US Navy submarines sailing so close to the surface like this anywhere in the world, let alone in any sort of proximity to potential hostile forces. The boat left the area after being cautioned to go back.
The presence of USS Georgia in the region, however, does not come as a surprise. The submarine was sent into the region allegedly as a show of strength, as it made a transit through the Strait of Hormuz in December 2020. It was the first time this type of submarine had sailed into the area in eight years.
It was escorted by two Ticonderoga class cruisers, USS Port Royal and USS Philippine sea. This trio traveled into the Persian Gulf following the movement of the supercarrier USS Nimitz, and elements of its carrier strike group, further south in the Arabian Sea to support Operation Octave Quartz, the repositioning of the bulk of US forces out of Somalia.
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Experts believe that the submarine could be eyeing the Eqtedar drill, and made its public appearance as a warning to the Iranian military brass. The Ohio-class boats can carry more than 150 BGM-109 tomahawk long-range subsonic cruise missiles, and special operations personnel.
“The boats are otherwise outfitted to operate as discreet underwater intelligence fusion nodes and command centers. This all makes them some of the best intelligence-gathering platforms available to the US Navy,” Trevithick added.