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USS Boxer Used Electronic Jamming To Take Down Iranian Drone, Pentagon Sources Say

Updated at 3:25 p.m. ET

The USS Boxer used electronic measures to take down a drone that the U.S. says was operated by Iran's military, according to Pentagon sources familiar with the situation. The Navy says the drone was destroyed in the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday after it came close to the vessel and repeated warnings went unheeded.

Iran has disputed the U.S. claims, saying that all of its drones are accounted for — and suggesting the U.S. ship might have accidentally taken down one of its own military drones.

The U.S. Defense Department officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly, say the drone was one of several threats to the Boxer as it passed through the narrow waterway near Iran's coast. They say at least one Iranian helicopter and several fast boats also were moving toward the ship on Thursday morning. The actions prompted the Boxer to send up a helicopter, which then flew side-by-side with the Iranian aircraft to ward it off.

The boats eventually followed radio warnings to break off contact, but the drone headed toward the Boxer instead of veering off, the sources say. Its presence was deemed a potential threat to flight operations aboard the amphibious assault ship, which carries a number of helicopters along with Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and a handful of fighter jets.

There was also concern that the drone might have posed a direct threat: In recent months, Iran-backed Houthi rebels have been using drones to drop explosives on targets in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia. But a Pentagon source says the drone in Thursday's encounter was found to be unarmed.

Initial U.S. statements about the incident with the Boxer did not detail how the drone was brought down. On Friday, a Pentagon official clarified that the Boxer used electronic jamming measures to take out the drone. The official did not provide specifics so as not to reveal information about the ship's capabilities.

The news site Military.com says a new anti-drone system used by the Marine Corps was responsible for bringing down the Iranian drone, though the military has not confirmed that report. USNI News notes that the Navy has previously disclosed that the Marines have operated the jamming system on the deck of a U.S. ship. USNI News described the weapon as one of a new range of "non-kinetic systems" that can bring down a drone.

President Trump first announced the downing Thursday afternoon, saying, "The drone was immediately destroyed" after it closed to within about 1,000 yards of the Boxer and ignored the calls to stand down.

Shortly after Trump's statement, chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman provided more details, saying a drone had approached the Navy vessel at around 10 a.m. local time, when the ship was in international waters and was sailing in "an inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz."

On Friday, however, Trump said the U.S. ship shot down the drone, conflicting with Pentagon officials' account that the Boxer used jamming capabilities. "No doubt about it no," Trump said in the Oval Office, according to a White House pool report. He added, "We shot it down."

Asked whether he is concerned about the possibility of a broader clash with Iran in the Strait of Hormuz, the pool report quoted Trump as saying, "No not at all. ... We hope for their sake they don't do anything foolish. If they do, they will pay a price like nobody has ever paid a price."

Also Friday, a senior Trump administration official said the U.S. government has evidence proving the Boxer destroyed the drone and indicated that more information about the takedown would be forthcoming from the Pentagon.

"We have very clear evidence, the Defense Department put out their statement about the actions of the Boxer," the official told reporters Friday. "The Iranians don't have great history with the truth. We're very confident in the president's announcement."

Asked whether the Trump administration would take further measures against Iran, the official said that the U.S. is prepared to defend itself.

"It was their drone that came to close to our ship," the official said, adding, "If they continue to do this. If you fly too close to our ships, you're going to get shot down."

U.S. military officials say Iran's helicopters and drones have often flown close to U.S. ships as they transit the Strait of Hormuz, moving between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

In one incident from August 2017, according to those officials, a U.S. ship was harassed by an Iranian drone that flew near the ship during night operations. No shots were fired, but the encounter was deemed to be "clearly unsafe."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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