The US Central Command (CENTCOM) has confirmed earlier reports that Iran has shot down a US Navy Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Block 10 Global Hawk unmanned maritime ISR air vehicle that was flying in international airspace off the Iranian coast.
CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said in a June 20 statement that “A US Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (or BAMS-D) ISR aircraft was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile system while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz at approximately 11.35pm GMT on June 19, 2019.”
Iran initially said it had shot down a Global Hawk in the Straits of Hormuz region after it penetrated Iranian airspace, and subsequent multiple social media reports – some claiming US DoD conformation – said it was an MQ-4C Triton had been shot down. The larger and more advanced MQ-4C Triton is believed to have only recently achieved an early operational capability (EOC) with the US Navy, with two air vehicles due to be based on the Pacific island of Guam sometime this northern summer.
The incident comes amid rising tensions between Iran, the US, and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in the region following the withdrawal of the US from an international nuclear weapons limitation agreement with Iran last year, Iran’s support of Houthi rebels in the Yemeni civil war, and the mining of two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman late last week which the US has attributed to Iran.
“Iran reports that the aircraft was over Iran are false,” the statement adds. “This was an unprovoked attack on a US surveillance asset in international airspace.”
The initial reports of the aircraft being an MQ-4C Triton were fed by Associated Press and other agencies quoting an unnamed Pentagon source, and was initially supported by flight tracking data of the aircraft ferrying to Al Dhafra AB in the UAE from its home base of NAS Patuxent River on June 15 using the ‘Triton2’ callsign.
JUN 15: US Navy MQ-4C 166510 TRITON2 departed NAS Pax River at approx 0340Z for Al Dhafra Airbase, Qatar. pic.twitter.com/6Xu21joejg
— Aircraft Spots (@AircraftSpots) June 20, 2019
The US has previously deployed USAF RQ-4A/B and EQ-4B, and US Navy RQ-4A Global Hawks to the region, and the US Navy’s RQ-4A is a modified early-build USAF Block 10 RQ-4A which features a maritime radar modes, maritime automatic identification system (AIS), and enhanced communications. The BAMS-D aircraft have been deployed in the region almost continuously since 2009 as part of the US Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Development (BAMS-D) program to develop its concepts of operation for the larger Triton.