Iran may be building an aircraft carrier, or rather a “drone carrier”. Images shared on social media and open-source satellite photographs obtained by naval analyst H. I. Sutton show a merchant vessel in Bandar Abbas port in the process of being converted into what appears to be an aircraft carrier.
According to the analyst, the 240-metre-long boat being converted is the former container ship Shahid Mahdavi, which belongs to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy. Modification to the vessel built in the year 2000 has been underway since May of last year.
“The conversion adds a large cantilever flight deck on the port (left) side. It is currently unclear whether an overhang will be added to the starboard (right) side as well. The fact that the superstructure spans the original deck means that a traditional aircraft carrier layout is not possible,” wrote Sutton in his blog, suggesting that the vessel could serve to accommodate onboard drone and helicopter operations.
The ship converted to operate small aircraft could be launched by the Iranian navy later this year and that a second vessel, also based on a container ship (supposedly the Shahid Bagheri, which also belongs to Iran’s naval force), should have the conversion process started shortly.
Iran has already built a “fake” aircraft carrier
In 2014, US intelligence agencies revealed that Iran was building an aircraft carrier similar in configuration to the US Navy’s Nimitz-class ships. However, it was later revealed that the vessel was just a dummy.
The ship was actually a floating platform shaped like an aircraft carrier, but without any operational capabilities. It was a structure that would later serve as a target for military training, which actually happened at least three times. In the last training, however, the actions probably did not go as expected.
In August 2020, satellite imagery showed Iran’s fake aircraft carrier listing in shallow water near the access channel to the port of Bandar Abbas, possibly after being attacked during military training.
At the time, specialists pointed out that the position of the wreck represented a serious risk for the traffic of merchant ships in the region. Since then, there has been no further news of the vessel.
Iran has invested in the development of unmanned attack and reconnaissance aircraft. Models from the manufacturer HESA have been used in attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure by Russia.