Iran is trying to build naval power as it prioritizes asymmetrical warfare

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BEIRUT – In 2021 alone, the Iranian naval forces and the Revolutionary Guards added the Alvand destroyer, four Martoob al-Sabehat Type 15 submarines and 110 combat speedboats.

And a senior official says there is more to come. Iran has ambitious plans to build a 6,000-ton destroyer and giant submarines, Rear Admiral Amir Rastegari, who heads the Marine Industries Organization of the Iranian Defense Ministry, told local Mehr news agency in April.

Experts say the development of naval forces in Iran is an increasing threat to neighboring countries.

The Alvand, the newest ship in the Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was launched on December 19.

“Iran recently tried to modernize its navy, primarily for the defense of [the] Persian Gulf versus Foreign Marines, ”Sina Azodi, a non-resident Atlantic Council fellow and visiting scholar at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, told Defense News. Historically, the “Iranian Navy was their smallest armed force”.

Azodi, who specializes in Iran’s military and nuclear program, noted that the navy has not been modernized in decades. Now the country is starting indigenous programs to modernize its existing fleet of surface vessels.

Iran operates three kilo-class diesel-electric submarines built in the Soviet Union that are 74 meters long. The submarine arsenal also includes two 48-meter long diesel-electric coastal Fateh-class submarines, which entered service in early 2019, as well as 23 Ghadir-class mini-submarines, which are on the North Korean Yono-class -Technology based.

One country, two navies

Unconventionally, Iran has two naval forces: its regular naval forces and the navy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. However, they have different tasks and areas of activity.

“The IRGC Navy and the Iranian Navy have two separate command structures,” said Azodi. “Although some of their responsibilities overlap, the main difference is in the methods and strategies of the operation.”

He said that while the IRGC focuses on hit-and-run tactics and asymmetric fast boat operations, the traditional navy is made up of frigates, submarines and corvettes.

“They share the same mission to defend mainland Iran in the Persian Gulf,” he added.

Mohamed al-Kenany, who heads the military studies unit at the Arab Forum for Analysis of Iranian Politics in Cairo, said another difference between the two navies is their respective areas of operation.

“The Navy of the Revolutionary Guards is particularly entrusted with combat operations in the Arabian Gulf region, while the regular navy operates mainly in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman and tries to penetrate as far as the Red Sea,” said al-Kenany.

He made a distinction between the conventional naval forces affiliated with the Army, which included “old” frigates and corvettes, which were obtained from the USA, Great Britain and France in the 1970s, and between the highly effective naval forces of the Revolutionary Guards, which are based on asymmetrical warfare, and These include speedboats, missile boats, ships equipped with torpedoes, and remote-controlled ships.

“The efficiency of the IRGC Navy in the Persian Gulf is very high due to the doctrine and strategy it uses,” including anti-access / denial tactics and the proliferation of mines in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf Waters in general. said Kenya.

He noted that because of the gun sanctions against Iran, the Navy was relying on old systems and local projects developed on the basis of technology from Western countries.

The United States has placed restrictions on activities with Iran under various judicial authorities since 1979 after the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran.

The draft budget that President Ebrahim Raisi presented to Parliament on December 12th does not mention a budget for the modernization of the Navy.

“I didn’t see the numbers either,” Azodi told Defense News. “What I know [is] the IRGC has received a large budget increase. I think the expectation is that it is better to give the missile program, which is the backbone of defense strategy, the bigger share, since they cannot expand the navy or the air force. “

Azodi noted that Iran relies on state shipyards and there are no private ones in the country.

Threats in the Gulf

From a bomb boat that attacked the Saudi frigate Al-Madinah in 2017 to a deadly drone attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea in August, there have been multiple incidents in the region.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard recently received 110 locally made combat speedboats that are “armed with missiles and missiles and capable of operating efficiently under the IRGC’s indigenous radar network,” IRGC chief commander Major General Hossein Salami told IRIB News reported in December 2021.

Azodi said the country’s focus on asymmetrical warfare capabilities was due to the fact that “Iran has largely got out of the arms market and countries are reluctant to sell larger weapon systems under pressure from the US.”

He said Iran sees this approach as “fairly effective against larger navies”.

Elsewhere in the region, Azodi added, the Gulf Cooperation Council navies have invested heavily in larger surface vessels, including frigates from the United States and France. Al-Kenany said this is in part because the Iranian Navy poses a major threat in the Persian Gulf.

“The Revolutionary Guard poses the greatest threat in the Gulf because it relies on asymmetric warfare and hit-and-run operations, particularly swarm attacks,” said al-Kenany.

“The Gulf Navy facilities need to be equipped,” he added. “You need thermal systems and thermal electro-optics to be able to recognize [adversaries] from great distances and radars that you can monitor from a great distance. “

Agnes Helou is the Middle East correspondent for Defense News. Her interests include missile defense, cybersecurity, weapon system interoperability, and strategic issues in the Middle East and the Gulf region.


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