US Navy tests anti-mine drones in Gulf drills

US Navy tests anti-mine drones in Gulf drills

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MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — The U.S. Navy is putting underwater drones through wartime-style drills as part of international mine-clearing exercises in the Persian Gulf following similar maneuvers by Iran.

The U.S.-led exercises, which began last week, include operations by the unmanned SeaFox devices, which are equipped with sonar and an explosive charge designed to shoot and destroy mines. It is part of the Navy's plans to increasingly deploy automated surveillance and protection systems, including aerial drones.

Navy commanders insist the exercises, comprising more than 41 nations, are not intended solely against possible Iranian threats. But Iran has previously warned it could block critical Gulf oil routes in retaliation for Western sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.

In apparent response to the U.S.-led drills, Iran last week staged its own minesweeping operations.

The information surfaced one day after a drone the size of a fighter jet took off from the deck of an American aircraft carrier for the first time in a test flight that could eventually open the way for the U.S. to launch unmanned aircraft from just about any place in the world.

The X-47B is the first drone designed to take off and land on an aircraft carrier, meaning the U.S. military would not need permission from other countries to use their bases.

"As our access to overseas ports, forward operating locations and airspace is diminished around the world, the value of the aircraft carrier and the air wing becomes more and more important," Rear Adm. Ted Branch, commander of Naval Air Forces Atlantic, said after the flight off the Virginia coast. "So today is history."

The move to expand the capabilities of the nation's drones comes amid growing criticism of America's use of Predators and Reapers to gather intelligence and carry out lethal missile attacks against terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen.

Critics in the U.S. and abroad have charged that drone strikes cause widespread civilian deaths and are conducted with inadequate oversight.

Still, defense analysts say drones are the future of warfare.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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