An American MQ-9 Reaper drone was fired upon while conducting aerial surveillance during a pair of attacks last week against international oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, U.S. military officials said.
The Pentagon’s Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East, said in a statement Sunday that the Reaper drone was conducting reconnaissance operations above the Japanese-owned M/T Kokuka Courageous minutes after the oil tanker came under attack by Iranian forces.
During the drone operations, “a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile attempted to shoot down” the U.S. aircraft but missed its target, Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Earl Brown said in the statement.
“The SA-7 was ineffective and its closest point of approach to the MQ-9 was approximately one kilometer,” Lt. Col. Brown said.
After completing an after-action assessment of the attempted shoot down, command officials determined “that this was a likely attempt to shoot down or otherwise disrupt the MQ-9 surveillance of the [Iranian] attack on the M/T Kokuka Courageous,” he added.
The attempted attack on the Reaper drone in the Gulf of Oman came days after another MQ-9 drone was shot down with the same type of Iranian-made surface-to-air missile in Yemen. U.S. officials say the June 6 shoot-down was carried out by Iran-backed Houthi separatists, who are in the midst of a civil war with Saudi-backed government forces in Yemen.
With regard to the June 6 incident, Lt. Col. Brown said that “the altitude of the engagement indicated an improvement over previous Houthi capability, which we assess was enabled by Iranian assistance.”
With regard to the more recent tanker attacks last week, Central Command has released video of an Iranian patrol boat with what U.S. officials claim are members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) removing an unexploded limpet sea mine from the hull of the M/T Kokuka Courageous.