Navy extends Nimitz stay in Middle East

Ed Friedrich

PERSIAN GULF — The Navy informed families Saturday that the USS Nimitz, which was involved in a second incident with Iran Tuesday, will extend its stay in the Persian Gulf.

That will also add to its six-month deployment. The aircraft carrier left Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton on June 1.

Nimitz is in the gulf supporting the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It arrived there in late July and is now expected to remain in the gulf through about mid-October, Nimitz spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Theresa Donnelly said in an email.

The Navy prefers to keep at least one aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf at all times, as it did from 2007 to 2015. There have been instances since then when there were none. Extended employments that wear down the force, and maintenance delays because of sequestration have made it more difficult, the Navy has said.

Before heading for the Middle East, the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group participated with the Indian and Japanese navies in Malabar 2017 exercises in the Bay of Bengal.

Navy Times reported a U.S. defense official saying Tuesday that an F/A-18E Super Hornet attached to the Nimitz had to take evasive measures to avoid an Iranian drone that came within 100 feet of it. The Super Hornet was in a holding pattern above the carrier when it nearly collided with the Iranian QOM-1 unmanned aerial vehicle, the official said.

The drone continued despite repeated warnings on the radio to stay clear. As it closed in, the Super Hornet did a rollover to avoid a collision, according to the official.

“If the F/A-18 had not done the maneuver,” the two aircraft would have collided, the official said. At their closest, the two aircraft were 100 vertical feet and 200 lateral feet part from each other.

Hours before the incident, the unarmed drone had been loitering about 4 nautical miles away from the Nimitz at an altitude of about 7,000 feet, the official said.

The Super Hornet landed safely and the drone eventually departed.

The encounter marked the 13th unsafe or unprofessional flight incident involving Iran this year, the official said.

On July 28, a helicopter with the Nimitz saw several Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boats approaching U.S. ships at a high speed. After they wouldn’t respond to attempts to make contact, the helicopter fired flares and the boats turned away. The Iranians said it was an unprofessional encounter. The U.S. disagreed.

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