Persian gulfDeyan Ranko Brashich

In American Graffiti, George Lucas’ 1973 coming of age movie, young men drive jazzed up hot rods down a Southern California city’s streets with no destination in sight, just whiling away time with fun and hijinks. This week 10 young American sailors, including one woman, took two high performance United States Riverine Command Boats [RCB’s] on a Persian Gulf cruise to nowhere which ended up badly, but could have been far worse.

Seems that they “drifted” – this is a term of art used by the United States Navy to denote a nautical navigation screw up – into Iranian territorial waters near Farsi Island some 90 miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Once the incursion was detected they were arrested and detained by Iran.

The initial explanation offered by the Navy was that these two high speed river patrol craft were travelling from Kuwait to Bahrain when one encountered engine failure which resulted in the uncontrolled “drifting” into Iranian territorial waters. But all’s well that ends well – after a brief period of detention the sailors were allowed to sail under their miraculously restored power avoiding a diplomatic debacle.

This incident raises questions that I would like answered. I mean no disrespect or malice; I am just asking.

The two boats are reported to be part of the Harry S. Truman Strike Group, a grouping of ships, boats, planes and submarines centered around the airplane carrier of the same name. Starting November, 2015 Strike Group 8 is on a 36-month training and deployment mission in the Gulf coordinating with Carrier Air Wing 7. But why train and deploy some 12,000 nautical miles away from Norfolk, Virginia, her home port? Surely there are warm waters and cool sea breezes closer to home.

In today’s age of budget constraints, it seems flying the flag so far from home is not for the stated purpose of training but for a naked show of force, over naval supremacy in the region.  Is that a fair statement of fact?

On December 26, 2015 “while transiting the Straight[s] of Hormuz several unguided rockets fired by Iran landed approximately 1500 yards away from the USS Harry S. Truman”. Why did the Truman and her accompanying vessels continue on course even though aware that Iran had announced in advance test firings? Why continue on course for at least half an hour towards the target site? Why place the carrier in peril a mile away from the impact site?

Is this another example of the “Don’t tread on me” or “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” mental syndrome? This incident wasn’t reported or made public, why not?

Back to the incident, what in God’s name are two Riverine Command Boats doing in the Persian Gulf in the first place? A quick glance at a map confirms that that no rivers flow into the Gulf from the desert of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Qatar. Any deployment of shallow draft boats designed for river warfare in the Persian Gulf seems irrational and counterproductive. What was the real purpose of their stated mission in the Gulf?

The boats, boats not ships, only 50 feet long are CB90 class fast attack boats of Swedish design are capable of carrying a “half platoon of amphibious infantry – 21 amphibious troops with full equipment” at speeds up to 74 kilometers per hour propelled by a high powered Rolls Royce jet-propulsion system. At $3 million plus for the basic boat they are fitted with sophisticated communication gear for these boats act as floating command posts. If a 2016 Honda Civic comes equipped with high tech GPS and navigation system you can bet your boots that these boats have really advanced high tech electronic navigation capabilities.

The United States Defense Secretary Carter claims that “a navigational error mistakenly took [the two boats] into Iranian territorial waters” and that the crews had “obviously has misnavigated when they came within a few miles of Farsi Island”. How can a ship’s captain “misnavigate” when using a computer guided GPS navigation system? Were the captains navigating relying on sextants and compasses? I think not, but I await answers.

Secretary Carter said that the Navy had lost radio contact with the boats but confirmed that the “GPS equipment on the boats showed the boats were in Iranian territorial waters”. You would think that the Navy’s 5th Fleet operation headquarters in Bahrain would keep tabs of its ships and boats in a highly sensitive theater of operations, wouldn’t you?

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times published a photograph of the two boats returning from Iranian detention at high speed leaving wakes a mile long, putting the lie to the engine malfunction story. Confirmation that the GPS was operational puts the lie to lost radio contact.

Another explanation comes to mind. You have a bunch of young seamen on two high performance boats without a care in the world going on a joy ride in the warm waters of the Gulf. Shut the radio and communications down and claim malfunction. Enjoy the sun and a little R&R. What a hoot, what a high! Reminds me of the Navy Patrol Boat, Riverine [PBR] cruising the waters of Vietnam’s Delta to the tune of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now.

Exactly what happened and is happening in the Persian Gulf are the questions I would like answered. Is America playing “chicken” in the Gulf? Is it playing a more sinister game? Or is it just playing in the Gulf?

DEYAN BRASHICH 02Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches, to be published February, 2016. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at

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