Iranian gunboats backed away in a showdown with a Royal Navy frigate after staring down the barrel of the 'perfect weapon'

HMS Montrose

Joel Rouse/UK MOD

HMS Montrose

  • During a stand-off involving a Royal Navy frigate and three Iranian gunboats on Wednesday, the British warship HMS Montrose trained its deck guns on the Iranian vessels, CNN first reported, citing US and UK officials.
  • The HMS Montrose is armed with two automated, rapid fire 30mm deck guns specifically designed to destroy small, fast-moving watercraft like Iranian gunboats.
  • A retired US Navy captain with a lot of experience dealing with the Iranians said that the 30mm guns on the Royal Navy's frigates are the "perfect weapon."
  • The Iranian gunboats, which the UK government accused of trying seize the BP oil tanker British Heritage, retreated after receiving verbal warnings from the frigate escorting the tanker.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

When three Iranian gunboats attempted to seize a British oil tanker on Wednesday, a Royal Navy frigate intervened, reportedly taking aim at Iranian vessels with the "perfect weapon" while warning their crews to stand down.

The Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose positioned itself between the tanker and the approaching Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) vessels and trained its deck guns on the gunboats, CNN reported, noting that the Montrose is equipped with two 30mm guns designed to repel small, fast-moving watercraft.

Read more: Iranian gunboats trying to seize a British oil tanker were scared away by the Royal Navy

"The fact that it was military ships, the IRGC in this case, creates a certain level of tension. It moves the confrontation from a maritime safety issue into a security issue," retired US Navy Capt. Rick Hoffman told INSIDER.

Hoffman, who frequently came in contact with Iranians while commanding frigates and cruisers in the Middle East, explained that the Royal Navy frigate was armed with guns ideal for targeting the Iranian gunboats.

"They are the perfect weapon," he said of the 30mm guns on the Montrose. "It has a high volume of fire, a high rate of fire, and it has a lethal kinetic projectile. I don't have to hit that thing with many of those before the vessel is incapacitated or destroyed."

The British Type 23 or Duke-class frigates are equipped with hard-hitting DS30M Mark 2 Automated Small Calibre Gun systems, which consist of a 30mm Mark 44 Bushmaster II cannon on an automated mount. The guns can fire off a couple hundred rounds per minute at ranges in excess two nautical miles.

The Royal Navy began refitting its frigates with these weapons a little over a decade ago as part of the littoral Defensive Anti-Surface Warfare upgrade.

"We don't know the British rules of engagement," Hoffman told Business Insider."If the commander felt there was a risk of a military action by those vessels, under rules of engagement that we have experienced in the past, they may very well have had the authority to open fire. And they have a huge advantage."

At range, the ship with this weapon has a "substantial advantage," he explained. As the Iranian vessels close, something they can do while the British vessel determines intent, the threats posed by these boats increases. Regardless, these small craft are going to be outgunned.

"They've got to come through that spray of fire with some sense of resolution," Hoffman said.

The HMS Montrose also sent out a helicopter, an AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat, that circled the Iranian gunboats, while the British warship issued warnings to the Iranian commandoes before they departed, according to the version of the story relayed to media by US and UK officials.

Iran has denied impeding the British oil tanker, BP vessel British Heritage, arguing that if it really wanted to seize this ship, it would have. The stand-off in the Strait of Hormuz was filmed by a US air asset, but the US military has yet to release the video footage.

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