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Iran has moved a mock US-style aircraft carrier to the strategic Strait of Hormuz during heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington, satellite photographs show.
An image taken by Maxar Technologies, a space technology company headquartered in Colorado, shows an Iranian speedboat heading towards the carrier, sending waves up in its wake, after a tugboat pulled her out into the strait from the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas.
The replica, which was photographed on Sunday, resembles the Nimitz-class carriers that the US navy routinely sails into the Persian Gulf from the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the waterway.
Iranian state media and officials are yet to acknowledge bringing the replica out to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s oil passes.
However, its appearance there suggests Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard is preparing a repeat of a similar mock-sinking it conducted in 2015.
Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the US navy’s Bahrain-based 5th fleet which patrols Middle East waterways, said the fleet remains “confident in our naval forces’ ability to defend themselves against any maritime threat”.
She added: “We cannot speak to what Iran hopes to gain by building this mock-up, or what tactical value they would hope to gain by using such a mock-up in a training or exercise scenario.
“We do not seek conflict, but remain ready to defend US forces and interests from maritime threats in the region.”
The USS Nimitz, the namesake of the class, just entered Middle East waters late last week from the Indian Ocean, probably to replace the USS Dwight D Eisenhower in the Arabian Sea.
It remains unclear when or if the Nimitz will pass through the Strait of Hormuz during its time in the Middle East.
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The USS Abraham Lincoln, deployed last year as tensions initially spiked, spent months in the Arabian Sea before heading through the strait.
The Eisenhower came through the strait early last week.
The replica carries 16 mock-ups of fighter jets on its deck, according to the Maxar Technologies satellite photos.
It appears to be some 200 metres (650ft) long and 50 metres (160ft) wide.
A real Nimitz is more than 300 metres (980ft) long and 75 metres (245ft) wide.
The mock-up strongly resembles a similar one used in February 2015 during a military exercise called Great Prophet 9.
During that drill, Iran swarmed the fake aircraft carrier with speedboats firing machine guns and rockets.
Surface-to-sea missiles later targeted and destroyed the fake carrier.
That drill came as Iran and world powers remained locked in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Today, the deal born of those negotiations is in tatters.
President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in May 2018.
Iran later responded by slowly abandoning nearly every tenant of the agreement, though it still allows UN inspectors access to its nuclear sites.
Last summer saw a series of attacks and incidents further ramp up tensions between Iran and the US.
They reached a crescendo with the 3 January US drone strike near Baghdad International Airport which killed Qassem Soleimani, head of the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force.
Iran retaliated with a ballistic missile attack that injured dozens of American troops stationed in neighbouring Iraq.
Given the timing of Iran moving the replica to sea, with satellite photos showing it being tugged out of port on Saturday, a drill targeting it may be a direct response from Tehran to an incident last week.
That event involved a US F-15 fighter jet approaching a Mahan Air flight over Syria, which saw passengers on the Iranian jetliner injured.