TEHRAN, Iran >> Iran flew a surveillance drone over a U.S. aircraft carrier and took “precise” photographs of it as part of an ongoing naval drill, state television reported Friday. The U.S. Navy said an unarmed Iranian drone flew near a French and American carrier on Jan. 12, but couldn’t confirm it was the same incident.
The reported drone overflight comes after a series of naval incidents between Iran and the U.S. in the greater Persian Gulf, including test rocket fire by the Islamic Republic and its brief capture of American sailors who strayed into its territorial waters.
The report by state television said the drone flight occurred on the third day of the naval exercise, suggesting it happened Friday. Later, its website and the semi-official Fars news agency, which is close to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, published footage it said was of the drone’s flight.
The footage showed the drone launch and later hover above what appeared to be an aircraft carrier underway in a body of water. The footage zoomed into a row of fighter jets on the carrier’s deck. There were no identifying marks visible on the carrier.
The Associated Press could not independently verify the footage. Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet based in Bahrain, said an unarmed Iranian drone flew near the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and “directly over” the USS Harry S. Truman on Jan. 12 as the vessels were in international waters in the Persian Gulf.
He said the drone “posed no danger to the ship” as the unmanned aircraft was unarmed and the carrier wasn’t conducting flight operations at the time.
“It was, however, abnormal and unprofessional,” Stephens said. He added that the U.S. Navy was “not in a position to verify the authenticity of the video as there are countless examples of similar footage to be found on the Internet.”
Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, the commander of Iran’s navy, called the drone overflight “a sign of bravery.”
It “allowed our men to go so close to the warship and shoot such a beautiful and accurate footage of the combat units of the foreign forces,” he told state television.
State television and the state-run IRNA news agency said an Iranian light submarine also participated in the surveillance operation. When asked about the submarine report, Stephens said “Iran has several submarines underway for its current exercise,” but declined to discuss specifics.
The Iranian report did not name the U.S. vessel filmed by the drone. The nuclear-powered USS Harry S. Truman, based out of Norfolk, Virginia, is in the Persian Gulf region launching airstrikes and supporting operations against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
Stephens said the drone report would not affect its operations.
“I can say that we are confident in the ability of U.S. naval forces operating in the region to respond appropriately as the situation dictates, and will exercise our right to defend our forces against any threat,” he said.
Separately, state television said Iran’s navy successfully fired surface-to-surface Noor cruise missiles during the drill at mock targets. Iran has announced other military exercises in the past to demonstrate the capabilities of its armed forces.
Iran’s navy began the naval drill this week over a 3-million-square-kilometer (1.16-million-square-mile) area including parts of the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. Iran said Wednesday its navy warned a U.S. warship to leave an area of the naval drill. The U.S. Navy later denied its operations were affected by the Iranian drill.
While Iran recently struck a nuclear deal with world powers including the U.S., its naval forces have continued its maneuvers. Iran has more than 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) of shoreline facing the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman.
The U.S. has criticized some of those maneuvers, including what it called a “highly provocative” Iranian rocket test fire in December near its warships and commercial traffic passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran denied launching rockets, though the U.S. later released footage showing the rocket fire.
The Strait of Hormuz, which sees nearly a third of all oil traded by sea pass through it, has been the scene of past confrontations between America and Iran, including a one-day naval battle in 1988.
In January, Iranian forces captured 10 U.S. Navy sailors who entered Iranian territorial waters near Farsi Island, an outpost in the middle of the Persian Gulf that has been used as a base for Revolutionary Guard speedboats since the 1980s. The sailors were released within a day, though Iranian state media aired footage of the sailors’ capture, angering U.S. politicians.