WASHINGTON — The Navy is rushing dozens of unmanned underwater craft to the Persian Gulf to help detect and destroy mines in a major military buildup aimed at preventing Iran from closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the event of a crisis, U.S. officials said.
The tiny SeaFox submersibles each carry an underwater television camera, homing sonar and an explosive charge. The Navy bought them in May after an urgent request by Marine Gen. James Mattis, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East.
Each submersible is about 4 feet long and weighs less than 100 pounds. The craft are intended to boost U.S. military capabilities as negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program appear to have stalled. Three rounds of talks since April between Iran and the five countries in the United Nations Security Council plus Germany have made little progress.
Some U.S. officials are wary that Iran may respond to tightening sanctions on its banking and energy sectors, including a European Union oil embargo, by launching or sponsoring attacks on oil tankers or platforms in the Persian Gulf. Some officials in Tehran have threatened to close the narrow waterway, a choke point for a fifth of the oil traded worldwide.
The first of the SeaFox submersibles arrived in the Gulf in recent weeks, officials said, along with four MH-53 Sea Dragon helicopters and four minesweeping ships, part of a larger buildup of U.S. naval, air and ground forces in the region aimed at Iran.
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