Iranian Ships Keep Stealing US Navy ‘Saildrones’

September 2, 2022Matt White
Iranian sailors throw back a US Navy Saildrone an American warship trails their vessel on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. Iranian forces have grabbed three of the unmanned, wind-powered drones this week. Screenshot via Iranian state TV.

Iranian sailors throw back a US Navy Saildrone an American warship trails their vessel on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022. Iranian forces have grabbed three of the unmanned, wind-powered drones this week. Screenshot via Iranian state TV.

Much like a 12-year-old at a windy park, the Navy has spent much of this week chasing after lost drones.

For the second time in a week, US Navy vessels gave chase after Iranian warships grabbed and then released small Navy unmanned ships — known as Saildrone Explorers — Friday, Sept. 2. Iranian news outlets circulated footage of Iranian sailors throwing what appear to be two Saildrones off the deck of a warship into the Red Sea. A US navy destroyer is visible in the background.

Maritime Operations (1920x1048, AR: 1.83)

Maritime Operations

A Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel and littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11) sail in the Arabian Gulf, June 26, 2022. US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Roland A. Franklin.

Earlier in the week, an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy ship briefly towed a Saildrone in the Arabian Sea, releasing the drone when the ship was intercepted by Navy ships. The Navy released video footage of the pursuit.

Friday's incident involved the regular Iranian navy, not the IRGC, according to The Associated Press.

Saildrones are relatively small, unarmed drones powered by solar and wind energy. They are 23 feet long, according to the manufacturer, and can sail at 3 knots, far slower than powered ships can. The Navy did not release what sensors were on the Saildrones, but commercial versions can be equipped with ocean-mapping equipment, communications gear, cameras, and other surveillance technology.

A US official told the AP that two US ships and helicopters followed the Iranian ship until the drones were thrown back into the water.

U.S. Navy Foils Iranian Attempt to Capture Unmanned Vessel in Arabian Gulf

Support ship Shahid Baziar of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy towing a Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel in international waters of the Arabian Gulf on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022. Screenshot via US Navy video.

“We have them in our custody,” the official told the AP.

The Navy has operated Saildrones in the Arabian Sea since at least January, according to a January press release.

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Matt White
Matt White

Matt White is a former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.

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