The U.S. Navy halted one of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy vessels from confiscating a 5th Fleet unmanned surface vessel in the Arabian Gulf.

U.S. 5th Fleet sailors spotted the IRGCN support ship Shahid Baziar towing a Saildrone Explorer USV, part of a network of manned and unmanned vessels the fleet operates, late Aug. 29.

U.S. Navy patrol coastal ship Thunderbolt, along with MH-60S Sea Hawk from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26, responded to the incident and the Iranian vessel released the unmanned vessel and vacated the premises roughly four hours later, on Aug. 30.

“IRGCN’s actions were flagrant, unwarranted and inconsistent with the behavior of a professional maritime force,” Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces, said in a statement. “U.S. naval forces remain vigilant and will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows while promoting rules-based international order throughout the region.”

The 5th Fleet, which is fielding several unmanned systems with artificial intelligence as part of Task Force 59, started testing the Saildrone Explorer USV in December. The drone relies on sunlight for power and uses its sensors and cameras for navigation and data collection.

“Every partner and every sensor offers new information that can be added to what we call the ‘Digital Ocean,’ an intelligent synthesis of around-the-clock inputs encompassing thousands of images.” Cooper said at the Combined Naval Event at the Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre in May. “Putting more eyes above, on and below the water’s surface enhances our picture of the surrounding seas and enables us to position our crewed ships to react more rapidly.”

In February, the 5th Fleet spearheaded International Maritime Exercise 2022, the world’s largest unmanned maritime exercise, which involved more than 80 unmanned systems. The command also unveiled plans earlier this year to establish a multinational fleet of 100 unmanned surface vessels by the summer of 2023.

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