US Navy confirms Iran's connection after drone attack on Israeli tanker

According to information published by the US DoD on November 23, 2022, a U.S. Navy lab in Bahrain has confirmed Iran’s connection to a Nov. 15 aerial drone attack on a Liberian-flagged commercial tanker transiting international waters in the Middle East.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 Components found by the US Navy of the Iranian Shahed 136 loitering munition. (Picture source: US DoD)

Two U.S. Navy explosive ordnance technicians boarded M/T Pacific Zircon, Nov. 16, to assess the damage and collect unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) debris fragments for forensic analysis. During a two-hour survey and evidence collection process, the technicians also obtained explosive residue samples for lab testing.

U.S. 5th Fleet transported the gathered evidence to a lab at its Bahrain headquarters where technicians confirmed Iran’s connection to the attack. The aerial drone that hit the commercial tanker was identified as a Shahed-136 UAV, fitting a historical pattern of Iran’s increasing use of a lethal capability directly or through its proxies across the Middle East.

Iran has supplied aerial drone technology to the Houthis in Yemen used in attacks against Saud Arabia and the United Arab Emirates earlier this year.

Additionally, the Shahed-136 platform is the same aerial drone Iran has supplied to Russia for use against Ukraine.

On Nov. 15, the explosive-laden aerial drone attacked Pacific Zircon at approximately 7:30 p.m. in the Northern Arabian Sea, tearing a 30-inch-wide hole into the back of the ship while subsequently penetrating and damaging internal compartments. The UAV’s explosive impact also damaged a shipboard boiler, potable water tank and life raft.

Upon learning of the attack, the British Royal Navy dispatched frigate HMS Lancaster (F229) to the scene. U.S. 5th Fleet also directed guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG 68), patrol coastal ship USS Chinook (PC 9), and a P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to assist and assess the situation.

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The United States managed to link the drone to the attack on the tanker by finding a number of elements, fuel hatch, short pitot tube, triangular hatch, GNSS Antenna Array and individual puck, Aileron Servo Assembly and Bracket and Vertical Stabilizer.

Since 2019, a number of civilian ships have been targeted by Iran. At least four attacks have been listed. These initially targeted ships linked to Japan, Norway, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. However, it seems that civilian ships linked to the State of Israel are targeted.

Different methods have been used so far. Explosions caused by limpet mines and then drone attacks. This is the first time that the drone model is publicly exposed, which makes the link to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The HESA Shahed 136, or Geran-2 in Russian service, is an Iranian loitering munition in the form of an autonomous pusher-prop drone. It is developed by HESA.

The aircraft has a cropped delta-wing shape, with a central fuselage blending into the wings and stabilizing rudders at the tips. The nose section contains a warhead estimated to weigh 30–50 kilograms (66–110 lb).

The engine sits in the rear of the fuselage and drives a two-bladed propeller in a "pusher" arrangement. The munition is 3.5 metres (11 ft) long with a wingspan of 2.5 metres (8.2 ft), flies at over 185 kilometres per hour (115 mph), and weighs about 200 kilograms (440 lb).