High above the Persian Gulf, an Iranian drone crosses the path of American fighter jets lining up to land on the USS Nimitz.

The drone buzzes across the sky more than a mile above the massive aircraft carrier and is spotted by the fighters. It is unarmed.

But for the senior Navy commanders on the ship, the presence of the enemy drone so close is worrying. Their biggest fear is the surveillance aircraft will start carrying weapons, posing a more direct threat to U.S. vessels transiting one of the world’s most significant strategic and economic international waterways.

“It’s just a matter of time before we see that,” said Navy Rear Adm. Bill Byrne, commander of the carrier strike group that includes the Nimitz. He said the Iranian drone activity has “generated a lot of discussion” and was becoming an increasingly pressing matter of concern.

If, at some point, Byrne believes a drone is threatening his ship, he and his staff would have to carefully proceed through the required responses – efforts at communication, sounding the horn, firing flares and warning shots, and flying a helicopter close to the unmanned vehicle. If all those efforts fail and he still perceives a threat, Byrne said it would be his duty, his “responsibility,” to shoot down the Iranian drone.

Source: The Associated Press

Why it’s on our radar: Iranian drones buzz U.S. warships nearly every day, say commanders, who are increasingly concerned about their capability. For now, Iran’s drones are merely conducting surveillance, but over time — as drone technology improves — many experts expect that drones will be weaponized, and that Iran will obtain and/or build them. The problem is that drone technology may be maturing faster than anti-drone technology, though the U.S. military is currently working on developing such technologies, which will at some point include lasers and cyber defenses.

In the meantime, it may just take downing a few Iranian drones to send Tehran the message that it harangues U.S. naval operations in international waters at its own risk.