Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps destroys replica of US aircraft carrier with missiles during military exercises near Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane for a fifth of global oil output.

This handout satellite image shows an Iranian mockup imitating a US aircraft carrier near the port city of Bandar Abbas.
This handout satellite image shows an Iranian mockup imitating a US aircraft carrier near the port city of Bandar Abbas. (AFP)

Iran's Revolutionary Guard paramilitary has fired a missile from a helicopter targeting a replica aircraft carrier in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, amid tensions between Tehran and Washington.

Iranian commandos fast-roped down from a helicopter onto the replica in the footage aired on Tuesday from the exercise called "Great Prophet 14".

Other footage showed fast boats encircling the mock-up, kicking up white waves in their wake.

Iranian troops also fired anti-aircraft batteries at a drone target in the exercise from a location that state television described as being near the port city of Bandar Abbas. 

Troops also fired missiles launched from trucks on land and fast boats at sea, as well as shoulder-fired missiles.

The Guards will use "long-range ballistic missiles with the ability to hit far-reaching aggressor floating targets" during the drill, said Abbas Nilforoushan, the Guards' deputy commander for operations, according to Guards website sepahnews.com. 

That suggests the drill could see a repeat of what happened in 2015 when the Guard mock-sunk a replica.

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Lingering military threat 

The drill, in a waterway through which 20 percent of all traded oil passes, underlines the lingering threat of military conflict between Iran and the US after last summer saw a series of incidents targeting oil tankers in the region. 

Tensions have escalated between Iran and the United States since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal in 2018.

The arch-foes have come to the brink of war twice since June 2019, when the Guards shot down a US drone in the Gulf.

Their animosity deepened after Iran's most prominent general, Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in January.

One of the most recent confrontations was in mid-April when the United States accused the Guards of using speedboats to harass its warships in the Gulf.

While the coronavirus pandemic has engulfed both Iran and the US for months, there have been increasing signs of a confrontation as America argues to extend a yearslong UN weapons embargo on Tehran that is due to expire in October. 

A recent incident over Syria involving an American jet fighter approaching an Iranian passenger plane also has renewed tensions.

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'Aggressive in tactics'

It wasn't immediately clear if all the footage was from Tuesday, as one overhead surveillance image that appeared to be shot by a drone bore Monday's date.

"Our policies to protect the vital interests of the dear nation of Iran are defensive, in the sense that we will not invade any country from the beginning, but we are completely aggressive in tactics and operations," General Hossein Salami, the head of the Guards, was quoted as saying. 

"What was shown today at this exercise at the level of aerospace and naval forces was all offensive."

State TV footage also showed Guards scuba forces underwater, followed by a cutaway to a blast hole just above the waterline on the replica carrier.

That appeared to be a not-so-subtle reminder of US accusations last year that Iran planted limpet mines on passing oil tankers near the strait, which exploded on the vessels in the same area. 

Iran has repeatedly denied the actions, though footage captured by the American military showed Guards members remove an unexploded mine from one vessel.

READ MORE: Showdown: Iran's Revolutionary Guard versus the Trump administration

Dummy resembles Nimitz-class carriers

The replica used in the drill resembles the Nimitz-class carriers that the US Navy routinely sails into the Persian Gulf from the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the waterway. 

The USS Nimitz, the namesake of the class, just entered Mideast waters late last week from the Indian Ocean, likely to replace the USS Dwight D Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea.

It remains unclear when or if the Nimitz will pass through the Strait of Hormuz or not during its time in the Mideast. 

The USS Abraham Lincoln, deployed last year as tensions initially spiked, spent months in the Arabian Sea before heading through the strait. The Eisenhower came through the strait early last week.

To Iran, which shares the strait with Oman, the American naval presence is akin to Iranian forces sailing into the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Florida. 

But the US Navy stresses the strait is an international waterway crucial to global shipping and energy supplies. Even as America now relies less on Mideast oil, a major disruption in the region could see prices rapidly rise.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies