An Iranian military helicopter buzzed a U.S. warship in the Gulf of Oman last week, coming within 25 yards of the USS Essex in an act that Pentagon officials said was “unsafe and unprofessional.”
The Iranian Navy helicopter circled the ship three times on Nov. 11 before finally veering off. At one point, it flew as low as 10 feet off the surface of the water.
“The crew of the Essex took the appropriate force-protection measures they felt was needed,” chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “They acted in accordance with international law.”
U.S. warships operate under specific rules of engagement based on their mission and location. Pentagon officials wouldn’t disclose what self-defense rules the Essex, an amphibious assault ship, was operating under at the time.
“Our commanders have the right of self-defense [but] they have to make those calls in a moment,” Mr. Kirby said. “There are rules of engagement to guide them. We are going to continue to stay vigilant.”
Provocative action like buzzing a warship could easily lead to a miscalculation and an escalation of tension.
“This [incident] ended peacefully but that doesn’t mean it was safe and professional,” he said.
The Essex conducted flight operations in the Gulf of Oman with the Royal Navy’s flagship aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth only days before the incident with the Iranian helicopter. U.S. Marine Corps helicopters practiced landing and taking off from the British carrier during the exercise.