Iran turned two container ships into the first unmanned aircraft carrier

Iran’s sectarian naval force is converting a former merchant container ship into a drone aircraft carrier in a dry dock near the entrance to the Persian Gulf, USNI News reports.

According to USNI News contributor H I Sutton who published satellite and open source photos on his website, “Work is progressing on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps‘ first aircraft carrier (We should ignore the infamous fake aircraft carrier target barge). The 240 meter long drone carrier is based on a large merchant ship hull. Two of the vessels are expected to be built, the Shahid Mahdavi and Shahid Bagheri.”

Sutton adds that “Based on analysis of open sources I believe the first one to be the Shahid-Mahdav (110-3) although it is also being reported in Iranian social media sources as Shahid Bagheri.”

Shahid Mahdavi is a former Iranian-flagged container ship that is getting converted into a warship to carry both helicopter and fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles at the Iran Shipbuilding & Offshore Industries Complex Co (ISOICO) at Bandar Abbas near the Strait of Hormuz, according to November photos.

As reported by The Martime Executive, Shahid Mahdavi has been in the dry dock since at least May undergoing the conversion from a merchant vessel to a warship.

Sutton says:

Iran's First Aircraft Carrier is under construction (It will be a Drone Aircraft Carrier obtained from Converted Merchant Ship and it’s expected To Be Launched In 2023)
November image circulating on Iranian social media showing Shahid Mahdavi in Bandar Abbas. H I Sutton Photo Illustration

‘The conversion adds a large cantilever flight deck on the port (left) side. It is currently unclear whether an overhang will be added to the starboard (right) side also. The fact that the superstructure spans the original deck means that a traditional aircraft carrier layout is not possible. The angles on the added light deck  are also not traditional. Possibly this hints at a flight deck running across from port to starboard ahead of the superstructure.’

The Iranian Navy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGCN) have converted merchant ships that the Iranians have been unable to use due to international sanctions.

According to The Maritime Executive in fact ‘The newly-renamed Shahid Mahdavi wears a coat of haze gray, and she has new gun emplacements on the stern, but open-source intelligence analysts have noticed that her lines are otherwise identical to the Iranian-flagged container ship Sarvin.

‘The Sarvin (ex name Sarita, Dandle, Twelfth Ocean, Iran Isfahan) is a 22-year-old Panamax boxship with a nominal capacity of 3,300 TEU. While she would have considerable value in today’s ultra-tight container ship charter market, her operator is covered by American sanctions on the Iranian maritime sector, preventing her use in most commercial trade lanes.’

Moreover, as told by Sutton, the IRGC also operates a covert base ship in the Red Sea, the freighter Behshad. A previous IRGC base ship, the Saviz, was hit in an attack widely attributed to Israel in 2021.

Iran's First Aircraft Carrier is under construction (It will be a Drone Aircraft Carrier obtained from Converted Merchant Ship and it’s expected To Be Launched In 2023)


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