Iran Is Apparently Building a Fake U.S. Aircraft Carrier—and No One's Quite Sure Why

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 21 2014 12:14 PM

Iran Is Apparently Building a Fake U.S. Aircraft Carrier

162351709-in-this-handout-provided-by-the-u-s-navy-the-nimitz
What a full-size, working Nimitz-class aircraft carrier looks like

Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan D. McLearnon/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Iran, U.S. officials say, is currently at work building a nonworking replica of an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. From the sounds of it, the American intelligence community hasn't quite figured out why Iran is going through the trouble to do that, but the working theory appears to be: so they can blow it in a propaganda stunt. Or, as the New York Times gloriously put it this morning, "presumably for some mysteriously bellicose purposes":

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Intelligence analysts studying satellite photos of Iranian military installations first noticed the vessel rising from the Gachin shipyard, near Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf, last summer. The ship has the same distinctive shape and style of the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers, as well as the Nimitz’s number 68 neatly painted in white near the bow. Mock aircraft can be seen on the flight deck.
The Iranian mock-up, which American officials described as more like a barge than a warship, has no nuclear propulsion system and is only about two-thirds the length of a typical 1,100-foot-long Navy carrier. Intelligence officials do not believe that Iran is capable of building an actual aircraft carrier.
Advertisement

The most likely scenario, U.S. officials say, is that Iran's Navy plans to eventually tow its new toy out to sea where they'll blow it up—video footage of which would then surely end up on state-run television. Iran has pulled similar stunts before, according to the U.S., although it doesn't appear to have gone to such detailed lengths before. (And details, you might remember, aren't always Iran's strong suit when it comes to propaganda.)

"Based on our observations, this is not a functioning aircraft carrier; it’s a large barge built to look like an aircraft carrier," Cmdr. Jason Salata, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, told the paper. "We’re not sure what Iran hopes to gain by building this. If it is a big propaganda piece, to what end?"

Making the entire model-building exercise that much more puzzling is the fact that Iran doesn't appear to have taken any significant steps to keep the project under wraps, building it in an open-air shipyard that is regularly monitored by Western satellites. While U.S. officials say they're not that worried about the propaganda potential of the fake aircraft carrier, they nonetheless decided they needed to go public with what they knew (and what they didn't) to, in the words of the Times, "get out ahead of the Iranians," suggesting that they're at least a little unnerved by the whole thing.

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.