A CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter lands on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship Bataan in April. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Magen F. Reed/ Navy)
A CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter lands on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship Bataan in April. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Magen F. Reed/ Navy)

Iranian forces pointed a laser at an airborne Marine Corps helicopter on Tuesday in an encounter that involved three U.S. ships and was deemed “unsafe and unprofessional” by the Navy, U.S. military officials said.

The incident occurred in the Strait of Hormuz, a heavily trafficked waterway off Iran’s southern coast that connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The amphibious assault ship Bataan, the guided-missile destroyer Cole and the dry cargo ship Washington Chambers were maneuvering through the strait when an Iranian vessel pulled alongside the U.S. ships, shining a spotlight on the Cole and then training a laser on a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter flown by Marines from the Bataan, said Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban, a U.S. military spokesman.

“The Iranian vessel then proceeded to turn its spotlight on Bataan, scanning the ship from bow to stern and stern to bow before heading outbound from the formation,” Urban said in a statement. “During the interaction, the Iranian vessel came within 800 yards of Bataan.”

Naval Forces Central Command, which oversees U.S. naval operations in the region, said the shining of the laser at the helicopter is what made them consider the incident unsafe and unprofessional.

“Illuminating helicopters with lasers at night is dangerous as it creates a navigational hazard that can impair vision and can be disorienting to pilots using night vision goggles,” Urban said.

The incident was first reported by CBS News, which said two other incidents considered unsafe by U.S. military officials have occurred since March. In one, the USNS Invincible, a ship equipped with sonar and radar, was forced to change course to avoid Iranian Revolutionary Guard fast boats that cut in front of the ship.

Two days earlier in March, an Iranian frigate came within 150 yards of the Invincible in the Gulf of Oman.

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