The U.S. Navy is transporting dozens of unmanned SeaFox submersibles to the Persian Gulf to seek out and destroy mines, as part of a major U.S. military buildup aimed at preventing Iran from closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Each SeaFox submersible is equipped with an underwater television camera, homing sonar and an explosive charge. The Navy bought them in May Marine Gen. James Mattis, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East sent an urgent request for the underwater craft, according to a Los Angeles Times report.
SeaFox submersibles are 4 feet long and weigh less than 100 pounds. The craft boost U.S. military capabilities in the area with negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program stalled. Several rounds of talks between Iran and the five countries in the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, have made little progress.
U.S. officials are concerned Iran, in response to broader sanctions on its banking and energy sectors, including a European Union oil embargo, might launch attacks on oil tankers or platforms in the Persian Gulf. Officials in Tehran have threatened to close the narrow waterway, which could block fifth of the oil from reaching a worldwide market.
SeaFox submersibles began arriving in the Gulf in recent weeks along with four MH-53 Sea Dragon helicopters and four minesweeping ships. The U.S. military is beefing up naval, air and ground forces in the region to meet any challenge that Iranian forces might pose.
The U.S. already has two aircraft carriers and a squadron of F-22 fighters to the Persian Gulf. Additionally, two U.S. army brigades are stationed in Kuwait where they can be deployed quickly to any point in the region. The larger buildup has been confirmed by the Pentagon, however the deployment SeaFox unmanned mine hunters was not reported, apparently to keep Iran for learning more.
The SeaFox can be deployed from helicopters, small rubber boats and larger vessels, including being dropped from minesweepers. The craft are piloted using fiber optic cable that sends live video back personnel operating it.
The SeaFox can find and attack floating or drifting mines, devices known to be used by Iran. It is effective to 300 meters deep, and travels at about six knots.
Each $100,000 weapon is built to deploy on a single mission since the “built-in, large caliber shaped charge” it carries destroys both the target and itself.