WASHINGTON, July 11 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy is sending unmanned underwater craft to the Persian Gulf, for use in hunting and destroying mines, officials said.
The Los Angeles Times, citing U.S. officials it did not name, reported Wednesday the SeaFox submersibles -- equipped with TV cameras, homing sonar and explosive charges -- are part of a military buildup intended to keep Iran from following through on a threat to close the Strait of Hormuz. The route is a key part of the delivery system for international oil markets.
The Navy acquired the SeaFox craft in May following an urgent call by Marine Gen. James Mattis, commander of the U.S. Central Command, the Times said.
The deployment comes as diplomatic talks on Iran's nuclear development program have stalled. Some U.S. officials have suggested Tehran might attack, or sponsor attacks on, oil tankers or other oil facilities in response to sanctions on banking and energy in Iran, the Times reported.
The U.S. military has two aircraft carriers and F-22 fighters in the Persian Gulf, with two army brigades stationed in Kuwait.
The report on the SeaFox deployment comes as Iranian officials announced the country's military shot down an unmanned stealth aircraft during air defense exercises. Brig. Gen. Shahrokh Shahram said the unmanned stealth aircraft shot down by his artillery units was meant to simulate enemy forces.
The U.S. Energy Department Energy Information Administration said in its monthly short-term outlook Iranian crude oil production has declined steadily since the end of 2011 and is expected to maintain a steady decline, falling by about 1 million barrels per day by the end of 2012.