Monday, May 10, 2010

Iran’s Navy Already a Threat to Oil Tankers, Moscow Analyst Concludes

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 10 – Despite its efforts over the last several years, Iran is not yet the naval power it hopes to become, according to a Moscow analyst, but Tehran already has sufficient capacity to disrupt shipments of oil in the Persian Gulf, an ability that already “represents a serious danger and requires an adequate response from the international community.”

In an assessment of “The Naval Power of Iran: From Intention to Reality” prepared for the Moscow Near Eastern Institute, V.V. Yevseyev argues that most of what Iran has done in this sector to date represents “a cover” for plans to engage in “diversionary activity” in the Persian Gulf against shipping (

But both because that alone represents a serious problem and because Iran continues to purchase naval equipment abroad and develop its own domestic ship-building capacity, Yevseyev continues, the Iranian naval effort deserves far more attention from foreign governments than it has normally received.

Last February, the Moscow analyst says, “took place an important event in the development of the naval forces” of Iran: the launch of the first, 1420-ton minesweeper that Iran had produced on its own, one armed with “Noor” cruise missiles, “the Iranian version of the Chinese S-802.

This ship, the “Jamaran,” Yevseyev reports on the basis of Iranian statements, has a helicopter pad and places for rocket complexes, something that would allow it “simultaneously to carry out a fight with submarines, aircraft, and weapons of an opponent under conditions of radio-electronic struggle.”

But the analyst continues, “an analysis of the information available permits the conclusion that in reality, the Iranian specialists have constructed a multi-purpose guard ship” for its coastal waters, the kind of ship that NATO governments refer to as a corvette and one that is intended to work together with shore batteries.

As such, Yevseyev points out, the new Iranian ship represents only a slight updating of the Alvand, built by Britain’s Vosper Yards and sold to Tehran “at the end of the 1960s.” And that in turn suggests that despite all claims to the contrary, the “Jamaran” is “in it essential features at the technological level of the 1960s and 1970s,” rather than later.

But if most of the ship’s equipment is thus relatively primitive, Yevseyev says, the weapons systems it carries are far more modern. The “Jamaran” has already this year carried out successful tests of the cruise missiles adapted from China’s S-802, a system created about two decades ago.

Iran “had planned to purchase in China a large number” of such missiles and was able to buy approximately 80 of them before “under American pressure, China was forced to stop further shipments” of this technology to Tehran. Iran is now seeking to produce its own on the basis of copying this technology, but it is uncertain whether it has achieved its goal.

Taking everything into consideration, Yevseyev says, “it becomes obvious that Iran’s Jamaran has sufficiently current rocket technology [to inflict serious harm on its opponents]” but that its other systems are out of date, at least compared to the most advanced guidance and tracking systems available.

Those shortcomings, he says, will significantly “limit” the ability of Tehran to use with success its anti-ship cruise missiles. Besides, the Iranian ship does not have serious anti-aircraft (anti-rocket) defense.” Thus, it becomes “an easy target for a strong opponent,” such as those Iran might expect to face during a serious crisis.

But the Jamaran and the nine other corvettes in Iran’s inventory, even if most of them were built or reflect the technologies of the 1960s, are already sufficient “to demonstrate its emerging naval power [to neighboring countries] and to support [Tehran’s] pretensions to regional leadership.”

And such ships, Yevseyev says, suggest that “Iran in fact is really preparing for something completely different,” a “diversionary war.” That conclusion is suggested both the fast cutters Tehran has purchased from Italy and its continuing construction – with a total fleet approaching 20 -- of new rocket cutters.

Also providing support for that conclusion, the Moscow military analyst says, are Iran’s purchases of “super-small submarines” displacing about 100 tons from North Korea and its own development of three diesel-powered mini-subs which have a displacement of approximately 500 tons.

Such ships, working together with shore facilities, like the one created in Jask near the Straits of Hormuz in October 2008 and the “not fewer than four analogous points” that Tehran is planning to open, could inflict enormous damage, all the more so, Yevseyev points out, because Iranian commanders have focused on “the negative experience of the Iran-Iraq war.”

During that conflict, Iranian commanders sent their fleet out against Iraq all at once, something that made it “an easy target” for Iraqi aviation. Now, Yevseyev says, Tehran is developing a naval strategy based on “decentralization” and the launching of “disinformation” campaigns against its opponents, something that makes even its small fleet dangerous.

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