I was standing watch in the FCC (fleet command center) for the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain in the summer of 2004. During this period we were conducting a lot of MIO (maritime interdiction operations). We were looking for smugglers of all types. During the oil embargo days, the Iraqis got very good at smuggling large quantities of oil out and arms into their nation. At this time, the USSS KENNEDY was the carrier battle group in the gulf and we were intercepting a bulk freighter heading out through the SOH. During a routine BtB (bridge to bridge) query of the freighter the conversation turned dangerous.
US VESSEL – “outbound freighter, this is coalition warship XX. State your destination and cargo”
FREIGHTER – “we are carrying weapons of mass destruction…”
US VESSEL – “*what the* - outbound freighter, say again your last.”
Needless to say the center went from a sleepy afternoon watch to full pucker mode. Aircraft were diverted from patrol routes and an HVBSS (heliborne vessel boarding search and seizure) team was scrambled from one of the interdicting ships. Listening to the radio transmission again, I am more convinced that this radio prankster may be at the root cause of the near fatal encounter.
The problem is clear, when there are confusing bits of information coming into the commander of a force (land, sea or air) their inclination is to act in a self preservation manner. During the cold war we installed a hotline between the US and Soviet command center to help defuse any potential “false” triggers.
With little or not such mechanism between forces such as the three warships and fast attack squadron – it was the careful training of the US forces which kept the Iranians alive.