An Iranian military helicopter flew within 25 yards of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, USS Essex (LHD-2), last week, the Pentagon first confirmed Monday.
“Video circulating on Iranian Telegram channels today of an #Iran military helicopter getting close to what looks like the USS Essex,” United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI) director Jason Brodsky tweeted on Saturday. “Would note this comes after US reported the USS Essex had an ‘unsafe & unprofessional interaction’ with multiple Iranian drones earlier this month.”
Video of the encounter showed the Iranian helicopter flying low over the water, flying up on the ship from behind, passing once below the deck level and then another time just above the height of the U.S. ship’s deck.
In a Monday press briefing, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby confirmed the encounter between the Iranian military helicopter and the U.S. warship.
“We can confirm that an Iranian helicopter approached the USS Essex in the Gulf of Oman,” Kirby said. “It operated in an unsafe and unprofessional manner flying approximately 25 yards off the port side of the Essex, at one point as low as ten feet off the surface of the ocean.”
Kirby said the Iranian helicopter circled around the USS Essex three times.
“Without getting into any of the specifics, the crew of the Essex took the appropriate force protection measures that they felt that they needed to,” Kirby said. “And they acted, of course, in accordance with international law. There was no impact ultimately to the Essex’s transit or their operations, but that doesn’t mean that this wasn’t an unsafe and unprofessional act.”
“Again, I am going to say we are going to act in accordance with international law and we are going to fly, sail and operate where international law permits and we’re going to continue to look after our national security interests in the region,” Kirby added.
Kirby also said actions like the ones the Iranian helicopter carried out are particularly dangerous because they could “lead to miscalculations.”
Kirby again said ship commanders have rules of engagement and options to respond to Iranian threats, should the need arise.
USS Essex is a Wasp-class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) that has been in service since 1992. In September 2018, Essex hosted the first-ever F-35B airstrike.
This interaction between the Iranian military helicopter and the U.S. warship came about two weeks after armed Iranian speed boats and helicopters swarmed around another U.S. warship, USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), in the Gulf of Oman. During the encounter, the Iranian helicopters lowered Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) troops onto the deck of a nearby Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker, who then seized control of the tanker.