USS Mahan Fires Warning Shots at Iranian Boats

Live-fire test with a .50 caliber machine gun (file image courtesy USN)

Published Jan 9, 2017 9:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Sunday, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Mahan fired three warning shots with a .50 caliber machine gun to ward off a group of Iranian attack boats. The incident is the latest and most dramatic confrontation between Iranian and U.S. forces near the Strait of Hormuz, and it follows an established pattern of high-speed approaches by Iran’s patrol craft. 

U.S. Navy officials said in statements to media that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) boats approached to within 900 yards and did not respond to the Mahan's attempts to make radio contact. The Mahan responded with a progressive set of warnings including the ship's siren, ship's whistle, flares and a helicopter-launched smoke float. 

“Disregarding the warnings, the IRGCN vessels continued to directly approach Mahan at a high rate of speed. Mahan then fired three warning shots with a crew-served .50 caliber machine gun, and the IRGCN vessels arrested their high-speed approach,” a Navy official told CBS News. “Naval Forces Central Command assesses this interaction as unsafe and unprofessional." The official also alleged that the Iranian vessels had approached with their crew-served weapons manned. 

At the time of the incident, the Mahan was escorting two other naval vessels, the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island and the civilian-crewed fleet oiler USNS Walter S. Diehl. 

Iranian state media had not yet published a statement regarding the incident as of Monday morning, but Iran’s Press TV reported separately that the nation’s parliament would be boosting military acquisition programs, including the purchase of fast attack craft. 

U.S. president-elect Donald Trump said last year that the Navy's rules of engagement should favor the use of force during confrontations with Iranian patrol craft. "And by the way, with Iran, when they circle our beautiful destroyers with their little boats and they make gestures that our people – that they shouldn't be allowed to make, they will be shot out of the water," he said at a rally in Pensacola last September.