Even though I regard myself as a modest man, I do take some pride in my work and skills. This goes for my now civilian life as well as my past service in the Navy, where I was a signals and communications officer (until promotion elevated me to command duties). So when it comes to any matter of communication I know a thing or two.
Listening to the BBC World Service, I just learned of a new development in the case of the recent naval encounter between ships of the US Navy and Iranian speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz. (For details see my entry of January 7th)
Having first been interpreted and reported by the Americans as a hostile approach by Iranian speedboats (most likely manned by naval elements of the Revolutionary Guard), sending some crude and threatening messages over ship-to-ship radio to the US squadron, comprised of the AEGIS cruiser USS Port Royal (CG-73, first picture), the destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70, second picture) and frigate USS Ingraham (FFG-61, third picture), it appears now that this was not the case after all.
A thorough investigation of the incident has - according to the BBC and the American service newspaper Navy Times - revealed that the Iranian interpretation of "a normal encounter at sea" is much more likely than the alarming original report from the US 5th Fleet and various members of the US government, including George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Analysis of the recorded messages revealed that they were most likely sent by "a well-known practical joker and prankster" and did in no way originate from any of the Iranian vessels. This would support the official Iranian statement that denied any hostile acts or intentions.
During a press briefing at the headquarters of the US 5th Fleet in Bahrain on Sunday the commanding officers of two of the ships involved explained in detail what happened to them while on patrol on January 6th. Captain David Adler (of USS Port Royal, right) and Commander Jeffery James (of USS Hopper, left) confirmed the approach of Iranian speedboats, which came at times as close as 100 yards to the American ships. They said that they followed pre-planned procedures for such an encounter and sent warnings across on ship-to-ship radio. However, the naval officers refused to tell how close they had actually come to open fire upon the Iranian boats.
I am struck by the carefree willingness of the US government to escalate and exploit this rather minor incident (and one cannot but ask what the real reason for that was), and by the obvious incompetence or lack of experience of the US ships' radio officers and their ratings. Had I been radio officer in one of the US vessels, I am sure I would have been able to distinguish between a practical joker, sending in English, and genuine radio signals from the Iranians.
If highly trained personnel, operating the most sophisticated communication equipment that is currently available, fail on such a task, it would be advisable to send them back to the Naval Communications (in short: Comm) School for a refresher course.
On a general note I very much doubt that the five tiny Iranian speedboats (like the one pictured here to the right) did at any time and under any circumstances pose a real threat to the vastly superior modern US warships and their sophisticated weapons and electronic warfare equipment.
During the "Cold War" our ships and equipment were a lot less powerful, but the personnel was obviously better trained and motivated. Illegal wars, it appears, are not even popular with the victorious troops who are sent to fight them.
The Emerald Islander