– Satellite photos suggest Iran is working to build its first aircraft carrier.
– The ship, originally a container ship, is being fitted with an angled flight deck.

A ship capable of carrying helicopters and drones would be useful for Iran to exert its influence over the Persian Gulf.An unlikely power may be on the cusp of joining the elite club of aircraft carrier operators: Iran. Satellite imagery suggests that the Islamic Republic is converting a 22-year-old container ship into a makeshift “aircraft carrier.” Although Iran has no carrier-capable, fixed-wing aircraft, it could use a ship with a long flight deck to launch and recover military helicopters and drones.

The ship was detected in a dry dock at the Iran Shipbuilding and Offshore Industries Complex located west of the port city of Bandar Abbas. According to naval warfare expert H.I. Sutton, who first noticed it, the ship is being built for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the paramilitary wing of the Iranian government responsible for naval operations in the inner Persian Gulf. Sutton believes it will become operational sometime this year. Sutton believes Iran is building two such “carriers,” the Shahid-Mahdav and the Shahid Bagheri. The two are identical, originally built as 787-foot-long container ships. Shahid-Mahdav is the first ship to undergo conversion and was detected via satellite by Allsource Analysis. The ships feature a long flat deck for most of the length of the ship and a tall superstructure to the rear. Iran appears to be modifying the ships with an angled flight deck on the port side, allowing the ship to launch aircraft.

Iran is a middle power with armed forces under-equipped as a result of decades of military sanctions. It has few large warships and little capability to build anything larger than a small frigate. The two converted “carriers” could embark the country’s 40-year-old helicopters, including military choppers (see top image) purchased in the 1970s by Iran’s then-leader, the Shah of Iran. The carriers will likely operate Iran’s growing force of locally-produced military drones. Iran is a growing player in the armed drone market, with armed attack drones such as the Mohajer-6 and Shahed-129 and the Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 kamikaze drones. Russia has reportedly purchased 1,700 Shahed drones for attacks on targets across Ukraine, particularly against the country’s electrical grid.

Zachary Kallenborn, a policy fellow at the Schar School of Policy and Government, told Popular Mechanics: “Iran’s drone carrier illustrates the great faith states are placing in unmanned systems. The wars between Russia and Ukraine and Azerbaijan and Armenia captured global attention, especially the key role drones have played. States need to grapple with how much role human pilots should play in an era of robotics. Iran is clearly stating: the role of human pilots should be reduced.”

Source » popularmechanics