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Iran's Navy: History and Modernity

photo: rasanah-iiis.org
11 July 2022

Iran's Navy has a very long history. It is enough to recall the Achaemenid Empire, whose lands stretched in the VI-IV centuries BC from the Indus River in the east to the Aegean Sea in the West, from the first Cataract on the Nile River in the south and to Transcaucasia in the North. King Darius conquered most of Greece and controlled the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Darius successor Xerxes not only possessed the largest and strongest naval fleet, but also built two pontoon bridges across the Hellespont, as the Dardanelles Strait was known then, to ferry his huge army from Asia Minor to the Balkans. They consisted of a total of 674 warships, through which «roadways» were paved. Modern engineers still cant figure out how it was possible to make such structures in a narrow part of the strait with strong currents, whirlpools and significant depths.

Yes, Xerxes fleet was defeated in the Battle of Salamis, when Greek strategist Themistocles managed to lure the Persian fleet into a narrow strait and defeat it there. Themistocles himself recognized the superiority of the Persians and believed that the Greeks had no chance to win on the high seas.

When Themistocles was forced to flee Greece, he found himself under the patronage of Xerxes' son, King Artaxerxes of Persia, under whom he was, in modern terms, a naval advisor.

Revival attempts

After Alexander the Great defeated Darius army in 333 BC, the III Persian Empire ceased to exist. Its navy disappeared as well. The first attempt to revive it was made in 1734 by Nader Shah. In fact, this attempt would be doomed to failure without British support. London was very worried about the Russian Empire's advance in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. So the Shah was tasked to deter the Russians. Thus, the Persian Shah's fleet became part of the British Empire's «big game».

In 1743, Nader Shah appointed English merchant John Elton as the superintendent of naval shipbuilding in northern Iran. Two frigates and four small ships were built under his supervision for the Caspian Sea by 1745. This somewhat facilitated the supply of Persian troops in Dagestan, but by no means eased the pressure from the Russians.

Things were not going well also in the more numerous southern fleet operating in the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. At first, the operations of Nader Shah's captains did not bother London, especially since there were many Englishmen serving on the Persian ships. But then, when the Shah's subjects got carried away with piracy and even robbed British East India Companys ships, interest in these «allies» waned considerably. And it is still unknown how events would have developed, but in 1747, after the death of Nader Shah, the Persian fleet collapsed.

In November 1932, Shah Reza Pahlavi, who came to power in Tehran in 1925 in a self-coup, made another attempt to re-establish the naval fleet. By the way, it was this ruler who changed the name of the country from Persia to Iran, its historical name. Reza Pahlavi failed to gain much success in naval shipbuilding. Nevertheless, under his rule, two Babr-class small sloops with a displacement of 950 tons each, armed with three 102-mm guns and two automatic guns, as well as four Charogh-class patrol ships with a displacement of 300 tons equipped with two 75 mm guns and two 37 mm automatic AA guns, and six 30-ton patrol boats were built for the Imperial Navy, as this modest force was pompously called, at the Italian shipyard Cantiere Navale di Palermo in Palermo.

This fleet did not exist long. In August 1941 Soviet and British units entered Iran and sank the Shah's ships. This preventive measure was appropriate. Reza Pahlavi was sympathetic to Hitler's regime. In turn, Berlin made no secret of plans to unite with the true Aryans and the country where Zarathustra had once preached the power of the Superman. The Nazis, however, had quite practical considerations as well. After capturing the Baku oil fields, they planned to take over the production of «black gold» in Iran as well to continue its struggle for world domination.

At the turning point

Reza Pahlavi himself abdicated and fled to the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, which, however, didnt prevent the exile from living. His son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi took the throne in Tehran. The foreign and domestic policies of the Shahin Shah, that is, the «Shah of all Shahs», as the new ruler called himself without false modesty, were controversial. But he was certainly influenced by the British and American oil monopolies, which saw Iran as the main policeman of the Middle East and a counterweight to India in the Indian Ocean zone.

Weapons were supplied generously to Tehran, especially since they were equally generously paid for. Suffice it to say that the Air Force of the Shah's regime had an air fleet exceeding those of all NATO member countries except the United States in the number of modern planes and helicopters (many of these planes are still in use today, being the backbone of the Iranian Air Force).

However, the construction of the new Imperial Navy progressed rather slowly, which was due both to a shortage of specialists and a high cost of ships purchased. By 1979, when the Shah's regime collapsed due to the impoverishment of the population and the discontent among Shiite religious figures with the westernization of the country, the Imperial Navy included three obsolete US- and British-built destroyers from the World War II era, four Alvand-class missile frigates, specially designed and built for Iran by British firms Vosper Thornycroft and Vickers, four US-built Bayandor-class corvettes, nine French La Combattante IIa Kaman-class missile boats, several minesweepers, landing craft, including 14 British-made hovercrafts, and support vessels.

By the time of the Islamic Revolution, four Kourosh-class guided missile destroyers were under construction and in a high level of completion in the United States (after 1979 Washington refused to transfer these ships to Tehran, they first became part of the US Navy as Kidd-class destroyers, and then were delivered to the Taiwanese Navy), and three Kaman-class guided-missile boats were undergoing outfitting at Iranian shipyards. Three US Tang-class diesel-electric submarines were under refit prior to transferring to the Iranian Navy. Six Type 209 submarines were to be built in Germany. 12 Dutch Kortenaer-class frigates were ordered from the West German Bremer Vulkan shipyard in 1978.

If these plans had been implemented, the Iranian Navy would become the strongest in the western Indian Ocean and would be able to project power up to the Pacific Ocean, as well as to the eastern waters of the Mediterranean Sea. But it didn't happen.

On the contrary, the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, which soon broke out, only weakened the Iranian Navy. In the battles, including with the Americans, who, for example, attacked Iranian ships during Operation Praying Mantis, the Iranians lost the Alvand-class frigate Sahand, two Bayandor-class corvettes, and two Kaman-class missile boats.

«I'm coming at you. You're going to blow up in a few minutes»

At the height of the Iran-Iraq war, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, ordered the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to establish its own Navy to repel the enemy in the Persian Gulf. It is hard to say what caused the decision to build a parallel navy. Obviously, the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran had a reason to distrust the officer corps of the «traditional» navy who had begun serving under the Shah's regime.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is an elite military and political force, which is part of the Armed Forces of Iran. After its establishment in September 1985, the IRGC Navy took a very active part in the so-called tanker war in the Persian Gulf, using «swarming» tactics. The latter involves several dozens or even hundreds of speedboats equipped with compact multiple rocket launchers (MRL), ATGMs, hand-held AT grenade launchers and heavy machine guns to attack enemy ships and vessels. Some boats were loaded with explosives, thereby turning into surface torpedoes.

The IRGC largely paralyzed oil transportation through the Persian Gulf. The US had to use its Navy to counter the new threat. However, the Navy acted traditionally by attacking Iranian naval ships (Operation Praying Mantis can serve as an example). However, the IRGC's numerous «hit-and-run» boats, scattered in numerous bays and jetties, were out of their sight.

After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, tensions in the Persian Gulf still persisted. Tehran, extremely unhappy with the presence of the US Navy in the Gulf, occasionally used the IRGC Navy to attack the ships of the US Navy and its NATO allies. In one episode of the «war of nerves», US Navy sailors received the following message on the radio: «I am coming at you. You're going to blow up in a couple of minutes». And its only when the US ship was about at the distance of 1 cables length (185 meters) away that the IRGC boat turned aside. There were many similar incidents.

One of the most recent incidents occurred in June 2022. Three IRGC Navy speedboats approached the US patrol ship Sirocco and the expeditionary fast transport vessel Choctaw County at a distance of 46 meters. The US Navy sailors were visibly nervous. But everything worked out then. Colonel Joseph Buccino of CENTCOM accused the Iranian militaries of not observing «international standards of professional and safe behavior at sea». Such actions, he said, «increase the risk of miscalculations and collisions».

Another recent episode is related to Western sanctions imposed on Russia. On April 19, 2022, the Russian-flagged tanker Pegas with 115,000 tons of Iranian oil on board was detained in the Greek port of Karystos. Then it turned out that the tanker, which by that time had changed its shipowner and name to Lana, did not fall within the scope of EU sanctions, but its cargo was arrested at the request of the US. The Athens Court ruled that the Iranian oil be confiscated and redirected to the United States. The transshipment of the oil into another tanker began on May 26. On the same day, the IRGC Navy also detained two Greek supertankers in the Persian Gulf which carried four times as much «black gold» as the Pegas. Tehran demanded a financial compensation for the lost cargo. Otherwise, it threatened to detain another 17 Greek tankers in the Persian Gulf.

The seizure of the Greek tankers was carried out in the best tradition of Hollywood action movies. First, Iranian AB-206 Iroquois helicopters landed commandos on the decks of oil tankers that were on the move and forced them to stop. A «swarm» of IRGC Navy boats immediately approached and convoyed the tankers to Iranian waters. As a result, Athens had to make concessions to Tehran.

Of course, the IRGC has markedly augmented its naval strength since the Iran-Iraq war, although still relies on hit-and-run tactics based on swarm attacks by speedboats. Ten Tondar-class speedboats, built in the mid-1990s in China and similar to the PLA Navy Houdong-class boats, are the largest fighting units of the IRGC Navy. They have a total displacement of 208 tons, length 38.6 m, beam 6.8 m, and draft 2.7 m. The boats are equipped with three diesel engines and can reach speeds of 35 knots. They are armed with two twin launchers of Noor or Ghader anti-ship missiles, two AK-230 twin 30-mm close-in weapon systems (CIWS) or two twin 23-mm automatic guns. The crews consist of 28 people.

The Tondar-class boats, bearing the names of the shaheeds, that is, martyrs for the faith who died fighting in the cause of Allah, have become obsolete. However, they carry missiles capable of striking the enemy at ranges of up to 170-300 kilometers and certainly pose a threat to any enemy.

Speedboats are the largest class of the IRGC's naval fleet. There are between 3,000 and 5,000 of them. According to Britains Sun newspaper, Iran has about 9,000 such fighting units. But only the IRGC command knows their exact number.

Dozens of obsolete boats are removed from service, while dozens of others arrive to replace them. At the beginning of February 2021, the IRGC Navy commissioned 340 (!) new speedboats of different classes at once at Bandar Abbas naval base. As it was stated then, they can carry missiles and mines, as well as covertly deliver combat swimmers to the place of sabotage attack. In December 2021 IRGC Navy commissioned another 110 such boats.

This truly «mosquito fleet», which mainly operates in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, and causes a lot of trouble for the United States and its allies, is quite a motley picture. There are, for example, the 1.3-ton Ashura-class speedboats capable of moving at 90 knots and carrying a 12.7-mm machine gun or 12-barreled 107-mm MRL. But there are also «heavier» fighting units. The small stealthy missile twin-hulled boats of the C-14 Azarakhsh class, better known as China Cat, are equipped with four Chinese C-701/C-704 anti-ship missiles with a range of 30-35 km, two 324-mm torpedoes, a 23-mm automatic gun and a 12.7-mm machine gun. Instead of anti-ship missile launchers, they can be fitted with a 12-barrel 107-mm MRL.

The IRGC Navy has commissioned 14-ton Peykaap II and Zolfaghar (Peykaap III) class small missile boats manned by crews of 3 in significant numbers. They carry two Nasr anti-ship missiles with a range of up to 35 km and two 324-mm torpedo tubes and have a top speed of 52 knots.

According to the IRGC Navy Command, some of the boats are equipped with Hoot (Whale) supercavitating torpedoes similar to Russias Shkval high-speed undersea missiles. True, the Iranian Whale falls short of the Soviet undersea missiles in a number of characteristics (for example, its range is 6 kilometers, which, incidentally, is quite sufficient when used in the narrow Strait of Hormuz), but still its capabilities are impressive. For example, the Hoot moves underwater at a speed of 360 km/h. The torpedo was successfully tested during the Great Prophet exercises in 2006, and then in the Strait of Hormuz in May 2017.

Focus on missiles

The IRGC Navy is responsible not only for the construction and use of its «mosquito fleet», but also for the development of advanced naval weapons as well as for equipping and developing coastal defense assets.

The basic anti-ship missile of the Iranian Navy and the IRGC's coastal defense units is the Noor anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM), which was an advanced version of Chinese C-802 ASCM. In 1995, Tehran and Beijing signed an agreement to supply these missiles to the Islamic Republic. But Washington began to exert strong pressure on the People's Republic of China to abandon its intention. Beijing was forced to take into account American concerns. But it managed to deliver 60 C-802 missiles to the IRI. Obviously, the technical documentation was also handed over, because the Iranian enterprises were able to launch indigenous production of Noor anti-ship missiles before too long.

They not only launched production, but also started improving the Chinese product. The range was extended from 30 to 130 kilometers by introducing the Toloue-4 turbojet engine, Iran's version of the French Microturbo TRI 60 turbojet engine. Then, the Noor got a DM-3B millimeter-wave radar seeker, thus enabling both improved accuracy of fire and jamming immunity. Finally, the engagement range was extended to 170 km. The ASCMs warhead weighs from 165 to 285 kg, depending on the modification.

The Ghadir ASCM is an advanced version of the Noor capable of engaging not only surface, but also ground targets at ranges up to 300 km. This missile can be launched by ships and coastal launchers, as well as by helicopters. Transporters developed for Noor and Ghadir shore-based launchers are virtually indistinguishable from regular trailers, i.e. it is extremely difficult to detect them by aerospace reconnaissance assets.

The IRGC Navy is equipped with a wide range of short-range ASCMs based on the Chinese C-701 and C-704 missiles. These include the Nasr-1 with a 150-kg semi-armor-piercing high-explosive warhead designed to destroy surface targets at ranges up to 35 kilometers. The Kowsar are much less powerful shore-based ASCMs available in two versions because they are based on two different types of Chinese C-701 and TL-10A missiles. They have a range of 15-20 km and a warhead weighing 29 kg.

Since the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) is increasingly focusing on the development of submarines, the Jask-2 submarine-launched anti-ship cruise missile was developed at the Imam Khomeini Naval University of Noshahr from the Nasr-1 anti-ship missile. The Jask-2 was first successfully launched underwater from a Ghadir-class midget submarine in February 2019 during the Velayat 97 exercise. The missile went into full-scale production in 2020. It is intended for use as part of the weapons system of Ghadir- and Fateh-class diesel-electric submarines.

The Jask-2 is fired by a submarine in a capsule. When it reaches the surface, the capsule is jettisoned and a jet engine is started. Like the Nasr-1, the Jask-2 has a range of 35 km. It is a very formidable weapon in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. The Islamic Republic of Iran is currently conducting R&D work on the advanced Jask-3 submarine-launched ASCM with improved performance, primarily longer range.

Impressed by China's success in developing anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), against which there are currently no reliable defenses, Iran has also taken on the development of ASBMs. The first model was a quasi-ballistic missile with the very symbolic name Khalij Fars, that is, «Persian Gulf». It is a version of the Iranian Ground Forces Fateh-110 theater ballistic missile. Its length is 8.86 m, body diameter is 0.61 m. The missile is equipped with a single-stage, solid-propellant rocket motor. The warhead weighs 650 kg and is equipped with an interception avoidance system. The range of Khalij Fars is 300 km. The guidance system is inertial, with a terminal homing seeker. The missile has been repeatedly launched during exercises and successfully hit targets.

The Hormuz-2 ASBM with improved guidance accuracy and even higher jamming immunity was an advanced version of Khalij Fars. Both missiles are in service with the IRGC's coastal defense units.

It is noteworthy that the Iranian anti-ship weapons have been repeatedly used, if not by the IRGC Navy itself, then by foreign organizations affiliated with the Corps. On July 14, 2006, the Lebanese-based Hezbollah organization attacked the Israeli corvette Hanit in the Mediterranean Sea with two Kowsar ASCMs. The first missile exploded over the deck of the ship, killing four sailors and causing serious damage to the corvette. The second one homed onto a Egyptian coastal vessel, which was nearby, in the terminal phase of trajectory and damaged it as well.

On October 1, 2016, at the Yemeni port of Mokha, located on the Arabian coast 74 km north of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, the Houthis, waging war with the Yemeni government forces and the Arab coalition forces that support them, launched a Noor anti-ship missile at the fast transport catamaran Swift en route to Aden, leased by the UAEs state-owned National Marine Dredging Company from the Australian firm Incat. The vessel, made of aluminum, lit up like a candle. It did not sink, but almost completely burned out.

On October 3, 2016, a US Navys flotilla consisting of Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyers Mason (DDG 87) and Nitze (DDG 94) and the so-called Afloat Floating Supply Base Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) appeared off Mokha. This flotilla was leisurely patrolling off the Arabian coast, seemingly provoking the Houthis. And they got what they wanted. On October 9, at about 19:00 local time, the destroyer Mason and the tender Ponce were attacked from the shore by two anti-ship missiles. The Mason fired two SM-2 and one ESSM surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and deployed a Nulka-class active missile decoy to intercept them. As a result, one Noor ASCM was shot down by a US SAM, and the second was apparently diverted by the Nulka and fell into the sea. That is, the attack was successfully repelled.

On October 12 history repeated itself. At 18:00 local time the Mason and Ponce were again attacked from the shore by two ASCMs. Again, the attack was repelled by the US destroyers SAMs. The ASCMs were shot down at a range of about 13 km from the US ships. The next day around 9 p.m., the destroyer Nitze fired several Tomahawk cruise missiles at three radar stations in the Ras Isah area north of Mokha, which provided the Houthis with targeting data for Noor missiles.

All of this, however, does not mean that these missiles are really bad. Tehran supplies its foreign partners with Noor anti-ship missiles that are not of the latest modifications, or even missiles decommissioned in Iran.

From «green» to «blue» water

According to the classification adopted in the West, the IRGC «mosquito navy» is a «brown-water» navy, i.e. intended for operations in rivers and littoral waters, whereas the regular IRIN is intended for operations in «green» waters the littoral and regional area, which in the case of Iran includes the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. Of course, there are no restrictions on the deployment of IRIN ships and submarines in the Persian Gulf, as well as IRGC Navy speedboats in the waters of the Indian Ocean. But in practice, such a separation exists.

After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian Navy needed upgrading. However, it turned out to be difficult to do this due to the sanctions imposed on Tehran, lack of financial resources and shortage of specialists in the shipbuilding industry.

Nevertheless, three of the four remaining Alvand-class frigates were modernized. Their Italian Sea Killer Mk2 anti-ship missile launchers and British Sea Cat short-range SAM systems were dismantled. Of the legacy armament, only 114 mm and 35 mm twin guns and the Limbo antisubmarine mortar remained. The ships received four Chinese C-802 ASCMs, which were later replaced by Noor missiles, two three-tube 324 mm anti-submarine torpedo launchers, two 20 mm AA guns, two 81 mm mortars, and two 12.7 mm machine guns.

In 2001, Iranian shipyards began building Moudge-class «destroyers», as they were classified then, for the regular Navy. The design was based on the same Alvand-class frigates. The ship has a displacement of 1500 tons, length 95 m, beam 11.1 m, draft 3.25 m, and a maximum speed of 30 knots. In other words, in terms of its characteristics, the ships correspond not even to modern frigates, but to corvettes. Armament is also appropriate: four Noor or Ghadir ASCMs, four Mehrab medium-range SAM systems capable of engaging not only air but also surface targets at a range of 45 km, two 3-tube 324-mm anti-submarine torpedo launchers, a 76-mm general-purpose gun, a 40-mm automatic gun or a multi-barreled 30-mm gun, two 20-mm AA guns and two 12.7-mm machine guns. There is an aft helipad for accommodating a Bell 214 ASW helicopter.

Seven Moudge-class frigates were ordered. Four were commissioned, one of which, Damavand, was lost in the Caspian Sea during a storm. Three are undergoing outfitting.

Despite its modest dimensions, the Moudge-class frigate Sahand, accompanied by the IRGC's Makran forward base ship, made a long voyage from the main Iranian naval base at Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf to St. Petersburg in June-July 2021, then performed the equally long return trip.

Moudge-type ships successfully operated off the Horn of Africa, where they fought pirates for several years. They also take part in joint Russian-Chinese-Iranian naval exercises in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman.

In addition to frigates, Sina-class missile boats carrying Noor missile launchers are under construction for the IRIN. They are derivatives of the La Combattante IIa-class missile boat. With a total displacement of 265 tons, they have a cruising speed of 35 knots and carry a 76-mm gun and a 40-mm automatic gun in addition to missiles. Of the ten ordered Sina-class missile boats, only five are in service. Like the Moudge-class frigates, theyre being built extremely slowly. This is due to a shortage of components, lack of qualified specialists and funding.

Fielding of submarines is progressing at a much faster pace. Tehran military leaders quickly realized that they were capable of responding to the US Navy only asymmetrically. Therefore, as noted above, emphasis was placed on the development of anti-ship missiles and submarines.

In 1991-1996, three Project 877EKM diesel-electric submarines were built for the Iranian Navy at the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg, even though Washington exerted enormous pressure on Moscow to reject the deal. They were actively used. For example, the submarine Yunes, commanded by Hussein Hari, was deployed for the first time in the Red Sea «to gather information and identify ships of other countries». The submarine was at sea for 66 days, establishing a national endurance record.

Iranian Project 877EKM diesel-electric submarines reached Indian and Sri Lankan shores and were on anti-piracy watch in the Gulf of Aden. They needed repairs. In 2008 the lead submarine of the sub-series, Tareg, was placed in a dry dock at Bandar Abbas. Specialists from the Zvezdochka ship-repairing yard in Severodvinsk arrived there. In 2010, however, after the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1929 prohibiting military and technical cooperation with Teheran, the Russian servicemen were recalled. However, Iranian specialists continued work on Tareg and the boat returned to service in 2012.

The Project 877EKM submarines are still the Iranian Navy's basic fighting units on the high seas. It is difficult to evaluate their operational status. Now that the UN arms embargo has expired, Iran is likely to take steps both to modernize its existing submarines and acquire new ones.

Since Iran was unable to purchase large submarines due to sanctions, it began actively building its own indigenous midget submarines. Since 2015, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy has been receiving Ghadir-class submarines with a submerged displacement of 125 tons, length 29 meters and beam 9 meters, capable of travelling underwater at 8 knots. Their armament includes two torpedo tubes, which can fire 533 mm torpedoes and Jask-2 anti-ship missiles, as well as lay mines. The exact number of these midget submarines is unknown, but most foreign analysts estimate their number to be between 17 and 23. This number is enough to completely stop shipping in the Persian Gulf.

Iran has built its first two Fateh-class (Conqueror) submarines with a submerged displacement of 593 tons, length 48 m and submerged speed 11 knots. Their operational depth is 250 meters and cruising range is 3,500 miles at an 8-knot submerged snorkel speed. Armament consists of four 533-mm torpedo tubes for firing torpedoes and Jask-2 ASCMs. There is a space to accommodate two spare torpedoes.

The Conquerors are already designed to operate in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea rather than in the Persian Gulf. They are capable of reaching even further. As Rear Admiral Amir Rastegari, who heads the Maritime Industry Organization of Iran's Defense Ministry, recently stated, the country will be building 6,000-ton destroyers and large submarines in the foreseeable future. There have been reports that Tehran intends to build nuclear-powered submarines.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is undoubtedly moving towards building up a blue water navy, which is explained not only by the desire to «push» the United States somewhere far away, but also to counterbalance the rapidly growing navies of neighboring Arab states.

Restructuring required

Two years ago, the IRGC Navy organized an unprecedented show in the Strait of Hormuz. A huge mock-up resembling a US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier was built, against which a demonstration attack was launched. First, helicopters and then numerous boats fired missiles at it. «The aircraft carrier» caught fire and was boarded. Although Washington protested at the time, the US and its allies are actually more concerned about other events. It is a long-distance voyage of the frigate Sahand and the forward sea base Makran in the summer of 2021 that has attracted close attention from Western intelligence services. The movement of these two Iranian ships was tracked almost in real time.

After the UN arms embargo expired, Tehran got the opportunity to modernize all services of its Armed Forces, including the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and the IRGC Navy. And they do need to be upgraded. The Tondar-class missile boats are obsolete and have to be replaced. To enter «blue» water, ships with a larger displacement than the Moudge-class frigates (in fact, corvettes) are needed. In addition to anti-ship missiles, they need to be equipped with effective SAMs, because theres nothing to do on the high seas without reliable air defense/missile defense assets. This applies to ASW capabilities as well.

The upgrade has started. The IRGC Navy was the first to launch it. Three shipyards are building the Shahid Soleimani-class catamaran-type stealth corvettes. The lead ship of the series was named after General Qasem Soleimani, who led IRGCs intelligence and special operations and was killed in Iraq on January 3, 2020 by a US drone strike. The corvette, according to US sources, will be 65 meters long and carry eight Noor or Ghadir ASCMs hidden inside its hull, an automatic cannon and will be able to carry a helicopter. The Qeshm Madkandaloo Shipbuilding Cooperative shipyard on Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz is also building a missile catamaran for the IRGC. It will be about 50 meters long and 14 meters wide and will be armed with four Noor or Ghadir missile launchers. The commissioning of these warships with the IRGC's Navy will make it possible to expand their operational deployment area beyond the Persian Gulf.

Unfortunately, the Iranian Navy suffers losses due to high accident rates for a variety of reasons. For example, the above frigate Damavand was lost on January 10, 2018, when it crashed into a breakwater during a storm while putting in the Bandar Anzali naval base in the Caspian Sea. Two sailors went missing in the accident. Most weapons and electronic equipment were removed from the ship with cranes before it sank. Since the storm persisted for several days, there seemed little left of the hull. However, the Iranian authorities said they would lift and repair the ship. Recently, the frigate Damavand was indeed launched at the Bandar-Anzali shipyard. It is a new ship, which will be equipped with some of the salvaged weapons and equipment from the lost frigate.

In May 2020, a Noor missile fired by the frigate Jamaran engaged a larger radio-contrast target the naval ship Konarak converted from a passenger/cargo vessel rather than a training target during firing exercises. Nineteen sailors were killed and 15 injured. The ship itself sank.

On the night of June 2, 2021, the Iranian Navy's largest ship, the supply vessel Kharg with a total displacement of 3,540 tons, caught fire at the Iranian port of Jask. The ship was preparing for a long-distance training voyage and had 400 crew and cadets on board. All of them were rescued, but the Kharg was completely burnt out and sank.

Finally, on December 7, 2021, the reconnaissance ship Talayieh based on the Moudge-class frigate, which was under construction, capsized in a dry dock at Bandar Abbas.  One serviceman was killed. Nothing was reported about the cause of the accident.

From all of the above, it follows that Iranian sailors and shipbuilders need to improve discipline, safety and naval culture.

There is one more thing that needs to be mentioned. Dividing the Iranian Navy into two parallel structures complicates their management and creates unnecessary competition, and ultimately increases costs. While in the beginning the establishment of the IRGC Navy was objectively justified, today the simultaneous existence of two navies in Iran looks controversial. And this situation will need to be resolved sooner or later.

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Iran's Navy: History and Modernity

photo: rasanah-iiis.org
11 2022

Iran's Navy has a very long history. It is enough to recall the Achaemenid Empire, whose lands stretched in the VI-IV centuries BC from the Indus River in the east to the Aegean Sea in the West, from the first Cataract on the Nile River in the south and to Transcaucasia in the North. King Darius conquered most of Greece and controlled the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Darius successor Xerxes not only possessed the largest and strongest naval fleet, but also built two pontoon bridges across the Hellespont, as the Dardanelles Strait was known then, to ferry his huge army from Asia Minor to the Balkans. They consisted of a total of 674 warships, through which «roadways» were paved. Modern engineers still cant figure out how it was possible to make such structures in a narrow part of the strait with strong currents, whirlpools and significant depths.

Yes, Xerxes fleet was defeated in the Battle of Salamis, when Greek strategist Themistocles managed to lure the Persian fleet into a narrow strait and defeat it there. Themistocles himself recognized the superiority of the Persians and believed that the Greeks had no chance to win on the high seas.

When Themistocles was forced to flee Greece, he found himself under the patronage of Xerxes' son, King Artaxerxes of Persia, under whom he was, in modern terms, a naval advisor.

Revival attempts

After Alexander the Great defeated Darius army in 333 BC, the III Persian Empire ceased to exist. Its navy disappeared as well. The first attempt to revive it was made in 1734 by Nader Shah. In fact, this attempt would be doomed to failure without British support. London was very worried about the Russian Empire's advance in the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. So the Shah was tasked to deter the Russians. Thus, the Persian Shah's fleet became part of the British Empire's «big game».

In 1743, Nader Shah appointed English merchant John Elton as the superintendent of naval shipbuilding in northern Iran. Two frigates and four small ships were built under his supervision for the Caspian Sea by 1745. This somewhat facilitated the supply of Persian troops in Dagestan, but by no means eased the pressure from the Russians.

Things were not going well also in the more numerous southern fleet operating in the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf. At first, the operations of Nader Shah's captains did not bother London, especially since there were many Englishmen serving on the Persian ships. But then, when the Shah's subjects got carried away with piracy and even robbed British East India Companys ships, interest in these «allies» waned considerably. And it is still unknown how events would have developed, but in 1747, after the death of Nader Shah, the Persian fleet collapsed.

In November 1932, Shah Reza Pahlavi, who came to power in Tehran in 1925 in a self-coup, made another attempt to re-establish the naval fleet. By the way, it was this ruler who changed the name of the country from Persia to Iran, its historical name. Reza Pahlavi failed to gain much success in naval shipbuilding. Nevertheless, under his rule, two Babr-class small sloops with a displacement of 950 tons each, armed with three 102-mm guns and two automatic guns, as well as four Charogh-class patrol ships with a displacement of 300 tons equipped with two 75 mm guns and two 37 mm automatic AA guns, and six 30-ton patrol boats were built for the Imperial Navy, as this modest force was pompously called, at the Italian shipyard Cantiere Navale di Palermo in Palermo.

This fleet did not exist long. In August 1941 Soviet and British units entered Iran and sank the Shah's ships. This preventive measure was appropriate. Reza Pahlavi was sympathetic to Hitler's regime. In turn, Berlin made no secret of plans to unite with the true Aryans and the country where Zarathustra had once preached the power of the Superman. The Nazis, however, had quite practical considerations as well. After capturing the Baku oil fields, they planned to take over the production of «black gold» in Iran as well to continue its struggle for world domination.

At the turning point

Reza Pahlavi himself abdicated and fled to the Union of South Africa, a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, which, however, didnt prevent the exile from living. His son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi took the throne in Tehran. The foreign and domestic policies of the Shahin Shah, that is, the «Shah of all Shahs», as the new ruler called himself without false modesty, were controversial. But he was certainly influenced by the British and American oil monopolies, which saw Iran as the main policeman of the Middle East and a counterweight to India in the Indian Ocean zone.

Weapons were supplied generously to Tehran, especially since they were equally generously paid for. Suffice it to say that the Air Force of the Shah's regime had an air fleet exceeding those of all NATO member countries except the United States in the number of modern planes and helicopters (many of these planes are still in use today, being the backbone of the Iranian Air Force).

However, the construction of the new Imperial Navy progressed rather slowly, which was due both to a shortage of specialists and a high cost of ships purchased. By 1979, when the Shah's regime collapsed due to the impoverishment of the population and the discontent among Shiite religious figures with the westernization of the country, the Imperial Navy included three obsolete US- and British-built destroyers from the World War II era, four Alvand-class missile frigates, specially designed and built for Iran by British firms Vosper Thornycroft and Vickers, four US-built Bayandor-class corvettes, nine French La Combattante IIa Kaman-class missile boats, several minesweepers, landing craft, including 14 British-made hovercrafts, and support vessels.

By the time of the Islamic Revolution, four Kourosh-class guided missile destroyers were under construction and in a high level of completion in the United States (after 1979 Washington refused to transfer these ships to Tehran, they first became part of the US Navy as Kidd-class destroyers, and then were delivered to the Taiwanese Navy), and three Kaman-class guided-missile boats were undergoing outfitting at Iranian shipyards. Three US Tang-class diesel-electric submarines were under refit prior to transferring to the Iranian Navy. Six Type 209 submarines were to be built in Germany. 12 Dutch Kortenaer-class frigates were ordered from the West German Bremer Vulkan shipyard in 1978.

If these plans had been implemented, the Iranian Navy would become the strongest in the western Indian Ocean and would be able to project power up to the Pacific Ocean, as well as to the eastern waters of the Mediterranean Sea. But it didn't happen.

On the contrary, the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, which soon broke out, only weakened the Iranian Navy. In the battles, including with the Americans, who, for example, attacked Iranian ships during Operation Praying Mantis, the Iranians lost the Alvand-class frigate Sahand, two Bayandor-class corvettes, and two Kaman-class missile boats.

«I'm coming at you. You're going to blow up in a few minutes»

At the height of the Iran-Iraq war, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, ordered the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to establish its own Navy to repel the enemy in the Persian Gulf. It is hard to say what caused the decision to build a parallel navy. Obviously, the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran had a reason to distrust the officer corps of the «traditional» navy who had begun serving under the Shah's regime.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is an elite military and political force, which is part of the Armed Forces of Iran. After its establishment in September 1985, the IRGC Navy took a very active part in the so-called tanker war in the Persian Gulf, using «swarming» tactics. The latter involves several dozens or even hundreds of speedboats equipped with compact multiple rocket launchers (MRL), ATGMs, hand-held AT grenade launchers and heavy machine guns to attack enemy ships and vessels. Some boats were loaded with explosives, thereby turning into surface torpedoes.

The IRGC largely paralyzed oil transportation through the Persian Gulf. The US had to use its Navy to counter the new threat. However, the Navy acted traditionally by attacking Iranian naval ships (Operation Praying Mantis can serve as an example). However, the IRGC's numerous «hit-and-run» boats, scattered in numerous bays and jetties, were out of their sight.

After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, tensions in the Persian Gulf still persisted. Tehran, extremely unhappy with the presence of the US Navy in the Gulf, occasionally used the IRGC Navy to attack the ships of the US Navy and its NATO allies. In one episode of the «war of nerves», US Navy sailors received the following message on the radio: «I am coming at you. You're going to blow up in a couple of minutes». And its only when the US ship was about at the distance of 1 cables length (185 meters) away that the IRGC boat turned aside. There were many similar incidents.

One of the most recent incidents occurred in June 2022. Three IRGC Navy speedboats approached the US patrol ship Sirocco and the expeditionary fast transport vessel Choctaw County at a distance of 46 meters. The US Navy sailors were visibly nervous. But everything worked out then. Colonel Joseph Buccino of CENTCOM accused the Iranian militaries of not observing «international standards of professional and safe behavior at sea». Such actions, he said, «increase the risk of miscalculations and collisions».

Another recent episode is related to Western sanctions imposed on Russia. On April 19, 2022, the Russian-flagged tanker Pegas with 115,000 tons of Iranian oil on board was detained in the Greek port of Karystos. Then it turned out that the tanker, which by that time had changed its shipowner and name to Lana, did not fall within the scope of EU sanctions, but its cargo was arrested at the request of the US. The Athens Court ruled that the Iranian oil be confiscated and redirected to the United States. The transshipment of the oil into another tanker began on May 26. On the same day, the IRGC Navy also detained two Greek supertankers in the Persian Gulf which carried four times as much «black gold» as the Pegas. Tehran demanded a financial compensation for the lost cargo. Otherwise, it threatened to detain another 17 Greek tankers in the Persian Gulf.

The seizure of the Greek tankers was carried out in the best tradition of Hollywood action movies. First, Iranian AB-206 Iroquois helicopters landed commandos on the decks of oil tankers that were on the move and forced them to stop. A «swarm» of IRGC Navy boats immediately approached and convoyed the tankers to Iranian waters. As a result, Athens had to make concessions to Tehran.

Of course, the IRGC has markedly augmented its naval strength since the Iran-Iraq war, although still relies on hit-and-run tactics based on swarm attacks by speedboats. Ten Tondar-class speedboats, built in the mid-1990s in China and similar to the PLA Navy Houdong-class boats, are the largest fighting units of the IRGC Navy. They have a total displacement of 208 tons, length 38.6 m, beam 6.8 m, and draft 2.7 m. The boats are equipped with three diesel engines and can reach speeds of 35 knots. They are armed with two twin launchers of Noor or Ghader anti-ship missiles, two AK-230 twin 30-mm close-in weapon systems (CIWS) or two twin 23-mm automatic guns. The crews consist of 28 people.

The Tondar-class boats, bearing the names of the shaheeds, that is, martyrs for the faith who died fighting in the cause of Allah, have become obsolete. However, they carry missiles capable of striking the enemy at ranges of up to 170-300 kilometers and certainly pose a threat to any enemy.

Speedboats are the largest class of the IRGC's naval fleet. There are between 3,000 and 5,000 of them. According to Britains Sun newspaper, Iran has about 9,000 such fighting units. But only the IRGC command knows their exact number.

Dozens of obsolete boats are removed from service, while dozens of others arrive to replace them. At the beginning of February 2021, the IRGC Navy commissioned 340 (!) new speedboats of different classes at once at Bandar Abbas naval base. As it was stated then, they can carry missiles and mines, as well as covertly deliver combat swimmers to the place of sabotage attack. In December 2021 IRGC Navy commissioned another 110 such boats.

This truly «mosquito fleet», which mainly operates in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, and causes a lot of trouble for the United States and its allies, is quite a motley picture. There are, for example, the 1.3-ton Ashura-class speedboats capable of moving at 90 knots and carrying a 12.7-mm machine gun or 12-barreled 107-mm MRL. But there are also «heavier» fighting units. The small stealthy missile twin-hulled boats of the C-14 Azarakhsh class, better known as China Cat, are equipped with four Chinese C-701/C-704 anti-ship missiles with a range of 30-35 km, two 324-mm torpedoes, a 23-mm automatic gun and a 12.7-mm machine gun. Instead of anti-ship missile launchers, they can be fitted with a 12-barrel 107-mm MRL.

The IRGC Navy has commissioned 14-ton Peykaap II and Zolfaghar (Peykaap III) class small missile boats manned by crews of 3 in significant numbers. They carry two Nasr anti-ship missiles with a range of up to 35 km and two 324-mm torpedo tubes and have a top speed of 52 knots.

According to the IRGC Navy Command, some of the boats are equipped with Hoot (Whale) supercavitating torpedoes similar to Russias Shkval high-speed undersea missiles. True, the Iranian Whale falls short of the Soviet undersea missiles in a number of characteristics (for example, its range is 6 kilometers, which, incidentally, is quite sufficient when used in the narrow Strait of Hormuz), but still its capabilities are impressive. For example, the Hoot moves underwater at a speed of 360 km/h. The torpedo was successfully tested during the Great Prophet exercises in 2006, and then in the Strait of Hormuz in May 2017.

Focus on missiles

The IRGC Navy is responsible not only for the construction and use of its «mosquito fleet», but also for the development of advanced naval weapons as well as for equipping and developing coastal defense assets.

The basic anti-ship missile of the Iranian Navy and the IRGC's coastal defense units is the Noor anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM), which was an advanced version of Chinese C-802 ASCM. In 1995, Tehran and Beijing signed an agreement to supply these missiles to the Islamic Republic. But Washington began to exert strong pressure on the People's Republic of China to abandon its intention. Beijing was forced to take into account American concerns. But it managed to deliver 60 C-802 missiles to the IRI. Obviously, the technical documentation was also handed over, because the Iranian enterprises were able to launch indigenous production of Noor anti-ship missiles before too long.

They not only launched production, but also started improving the Chinese product. The range was extended from 30 to 130 kilometers by introducing the Toloue-4 turbojet engine, Iran's version of the French Microturbo TRI 60 turbojet engine. Then, the Noor got a DM-3B millimeter-wave radar seeker, thus enabling both improved accuracy of fire and jamming immunity. Finally, the engagement range was extended to 170 km. The ASCMs warhead weighs from 165 to 285 kg, depending on the modification.

The Ghadir ASCM is an advanced version of the Noor capable of engaging not only surface, but also ground targets at ranges up to 300 km. This missile can be launched by ships and coastal launchers, as well as by helicopters. Transporters developed for Noor and Ghadir shore-based launchers are virtually indistinguishable from regular trailers, i.e. it is extremely difficult to detect them by aerospace reconnaissance assets.

The IRGC Navy is equipped with a wide range of short-range ASCMs based on the Chinese C-701 and C-704 missiles. These include the Nasr-1 with a 150-kg semi-armor-piercing high-explosive warhead designed to destroy surface targets at ranges up to 35 kilometers. The Kowsar are much less powerful shore-based ASCMs available in two versions because they are based on two different types of Chinese C-701 and TL-10A missiles. They have a range of 15-20 km and a warhead weighing 29 kg.

Since the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) is increasingly focusing on the development of submarines, the Jask-2 submarine-launched anti-ship cruise missile was developed at the Imam Khomeini Naval University of Noshahr from the Nasr-1 anti-ship missile. The Jask-2 was first successfully launched underwater from a Ghadir-class midget submarine in February 2019 during the Velayat 97 exercise. The missile went into full-scale production in 2020. It is intended for use as part of the weapons system of Ghadir- and Fateh-class diesel-electric submarines.

The Jask-2 is fired by a submarine in a capsule. When it reaches the surface, the capsule is jettisoned and a jet engine is started. Like the Nasr-1, the Jask-2 has a range of 35 km. It is a very formidable weapon in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. The Islamic Republic of Iran is currently conducting R&D work on the advanced Jask-3 submarine-launched ASCM with improved performance, primarily longer range.

Impressed by China's success in developing anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), against which there are currently no reliable defenses, Iran has also taken on the development of ASBMs. The first model was a quasi-ballistic missile with the very symbolic name Khalij Fars, that is, «Persian Gulf». It is a version of the Iranian Ground Forces Fateh-110 theater ballistic missile. Its length is 8.86 m, body diameter is 0.61 m. The missile is equipped with a single-stage, solid-propellant rocket motor. The warhead weighs 650 kg and is equipped with an interception avoidance system. The range of Khalij Fars is 300 km. The guidance system is inertial, with a terminal homing seeker. The missile has been repeatedly launched during exercises and successfully hit targets.

The Hormuz-2 ASBM with improved guidance accuracy and even higher jamming immunity was an advanced version of Khalij Fars. Both missiles are in service with the IRGC's coastal defense units.

It is noteworthy that the Iranian anti-ship weapons have been repeatedly used, if not by the IRGC Navy itself, then by foreign organizations affiliated with the Corps. On July 14, 2006, the Lebanese-based Hezbollah organization attacked the Israeli corvette Hanit in the Mediterranean Sea with two Kowsar ASCMs. The first missile exploded over the deck of the ship, killing four sailors and causing serious damage to the corvette. The second one homed onto a Egyptian coastal vessel, which was nearby, in the terminal phase of trajectory and damaged it as well.

On October 1, 2016, at the Yemeni port of Mokha, located on the Arabian coast 74 km north of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, the Houthis, waging war with the Yemeni government forces and the Arab coalition forces that support them, launched a Noor anti-ship missile at the fast transport catamaran Swift en route to Aden, leased by the UAEs state-owned National Marine Dredging Company from the Australian firm Incat. The vessel, made of aluminum, lit up like a candle. It did not sink, but almost completely burned out.

On October 3, 2016, a US Navys flotilla consisting of Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyers Mason (DDG 87) and Nitze (DDG 94) and the so-called Afloat Floating Supply Base Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) appeared off Mokha. This flotilla was leisurely patrolling off the Arabian coast, seemingly provoking the Houthis. And they got what they wanted. On October 9, at about 19:00 local time, the destroyer Mason and the tender Ponce were attacked from the shore by two anti-ship missiles. The Mason fired two SM-2 and one ESSM surface-to-air missiles (SAM) and deployed a Nulka-class active missile decoy to intercept them. As a result, one Noor ASCM was shot down by a US SAM, and the second was apparently diverted by the Nulka and fell into the sea. That is, the attack was successfully repelled.

On October 12 history repeated itself. At 18:00 local time the Mason and Ponce were again attacked from the shore by two ASCMs. Again, the attack was repelled by the US destroyers SAMs. The ASCMs were shot down at a range of about 13 km from the US ships. The next day around 9 p.m., the destroyer Nitze fired several Tomahawk cruise missiles at three radar stations in the Ras Isah area north of Mokha, which provided the Houthis with targeting data for Noor missiles.

All of this, however, does not mean that these missiles are really bad. Tehran supplies its foreign partners with Noor anti-ship missiles that are not of the latest modifications, or even missiles decommissioned in Iran.

From «green» to «blue» water

According to the classification adopted in the West, the IRGC «mosquito navy» is a «brown-water» navy, i.e. intended for operations in rivers and littoral waters, whereas the regular IRIN is intended for operations in «green» waters the littoral and regional area, which in the case of Iran includes the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman. Of course, there are no restrictions on the deployment of IRIN ships and submarines in the Persian Gulf, as well as IRGC Navy speedboats in the waters of the Indian Ocean. But in practice, such a separation exists.

After the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian Navy needed upgrading. However, it turned out to be difficult to do this due to the sanctions imposed on Tehran, lack of financial resources and shortage of specialists in the shipbuilding industry.

Nevertheless, three of the four remaining Alvand-class frigates were modernized. Their Italian Sea Killer Mk2 anti-ship missile launchers and British Sea Cat short-range SAM systems were dismantled. Of the legacy armament, only 114 mm and 35 mm twin guns and the Limbo antisubmarine mortar remained. The ships received four Chinese C-802 ASCMs, which were later replaced by Noor missiles, two three-tube 324 mm anti-submarine torpedo launchers, two 20 mm AA guns, two 81 mm mortars, and two 12.7 mm machine guns.

In 2001, Iranian shipyards began building Moudge-class «destroyers», as they were classified then, for the regular Navy. The design was based on the same Alvand-class frigates. The ship has a displacement of 1500 tons, length 95 m, beam 11.1 m, draft 3.25 m, and a maximum speed of 30 knots. In other words, in terms of its characteristics, the ships correspond not even to modern frigates, but to corvettes. Armament is also appropriate: four Noor or Ghadir ASCMs, four Mehrab medium-range SAM systems capable of engaging not only air but also surface targets at a range of 45 km, two 3-tube 324-mm anti-submarine torpedo launchers, a 76-mm general-purpose gun, a 40-mm automatic gun or a multi-barreled 30-mm gun, two 20-mm AA guns and two 12.7-mm machine guns. There is an aft helipad for accommodating a Bell 214 ASW helicopter.

Seven Moudge-class frigates were ordered. Four were commissioned, one of which, Damavand, was lost in the Caspian Sea during a storm. Three are undergoing outfitting.

Despite its modest dimensions, the Moudge-class frigate Sahand, accompanied by the IRGC's Makran forward base ship, made a long voyage from the main Iranian naval base at Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf to St. Petersburg in June-July 2021, then performed the equally long return trip.

Moudge-type ships successfully operated off the Horn of Africa, where they fought pirates for several years. They also take part in joint Russian-Chinese-Iranian naval exercises in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman.

In addition to frigates, Sina-class missile boats carrying Noor missile launchers are under construction for the IRIN. They are derivatives of the La Combattante IIa-class missile boat. With a total displacement of 265 tons, they have a cruising speed of 35 knots and carry a 76-mm gun and a 40-mm automatic gun in addition to missiles. Of the ten ordered Sina-class missile boats, only five are in service. Like the Moudge-class frigates, theyre being built extremely slowly. This is due to a shortage of components, lack of qualified specialists and funding.

Fielding of submarines is progressing at a much faster pace. Tehran military leaders quickly realized that they were capable of responding to the US Navy only asymmetrically. Therefore, as noted above, emphasis was placed on the development of anti-ship missiles and submarines.

In 1991-1996, three Project 877EKM diesel-electric submarines were built for the Iranian Navy at the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg, even though Washington exerted enormous pressure on Moscow to reject the deal. They were actively used. For example, the submarine Yunes, commanded by Hussein Hari, was deployed for the first time in the Red Sea «to gather information and identify ships of other countries». The submarine was at sea for 66 days, establishing a national endurance record.

Iranian Project 877EKM diesel-electric submarines reached Indian and Sri Lankan shores and were on anti-piracy watch in the Gulf of Aden. They needed repairs. In 2008 the lead submarine of the sub-series, Tareg, was placed in a dry dock at Bandar Abbas. Specialists from the Zvezdochka ship-repairing yard in Severodvinsk arrived there. In 2010, however, after the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1929 prohibiting military and technical cooperation with Teheran, the Russian servicemen were recalled. However, Iranian specialists continued work on Tareg and the boat returned to service in 2012.

The Project 877EKM submarines are still the Iranian Navy's basic fighting units on the high seas. It is difficult to evaluate their operational status. Now that the UN arms embargo has expired, Iran is likely to take steps both to modernize its existing submarines and acquire new ones.

Since Iran was unable to purchase large submarines due to sanctions, it began actively building its own indigenous midget submarines. Since 2015, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy has been receiving Ghadir-class submarines with a submerged displacement of 125 tons, length 29 meters and beam 9 meters, capable of travelling underwater at 8 knots. Their armament includes two torpedo tubes, which can fire 533 mm torpedoes and Jask-2 anti-ship missiles, as well as lay mines. The exact number of these midget submarines is unknown, but most foreign analysts estimate their number to be between 17 and 23. This number is enough to completely stop shipping in the Persian Gulf.

Iran has built its first two Fateh-class (Conqueror) submarines with a submerged displacement of 593 tons, length 48 m and submerged speed 11 knots. Their operational depth is 250 meters and cruising range is 3,500 miles at an 8-knot submerged snorkel speed. Armament consists of four 533-mm torpedo tubes for firing torpedoes and Jask-2 ASCMs. There is a space to accommodate two spare torpedoes.

The Conquerors are already designed to operate in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea rather than in the Persian Gulf. They are capable of reaching even further. As Rear Admiral Amir Rastegari, who heads the Maritime Industry Organization of Iran's Defense Ministry, recently stated, the country will be building 6,000-ton destroyers and large submarines in the foreseeable future. There have been reports that Tehran intends to build nuclear-powered submarines.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is undoubtedly moving towards building up a blue water navy, which is explained not only by the desire to «push» the United States somewhere far away, but also to counterbalance the rapidly growing navies of neighboring Arab states.

Restructuring required

Two years ago, the IRGC Navy organized an unprecedented show in the Strait of Hormuz. A huge mock-up resembling a US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier was built, against which a demonstration attack was launched. First, helicopters and then numerous boats fired missiles at it. «The aircraft carrier» caught fire and was boarded. Although Washington protested at the time, the US and its allies are actually more concerned about other events. It is a long-distance voyage of the frigate Sahand and the forward sea base Makran in the summer of 2021 that has attracted close attention from Western intelligence services. The movement of these two Iranian ships was tracked almost in real time.

After the UN arms embargo expired, Tehran got the opportunity to modernize all services of its Armed Forces, including the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and the IRGC Navy. And they do need to be upgraded. The Tondar-class missile boats are obsolete and have to be replaced. To enter «blue» water, ships with a larger displacement than the Moudge-class frigates (in fact, corvettes) are needed. In addition to anti-ship missiles, they need to be equipped with effective SAMs, because theres nothing to do on the high seas without reliable air defense/missile defense assets. This applies to ASW capabilities as well.

The upgrade has started. The IRGC Navy was the first to launch it. Three shipyards are building the Shahid Soleimani-class catamaran-type stealth corvettes. The lead ship of the series was named after General Qasem Soleimani, who led IRGCs intelligence and special operations and was killed in Iraq on January 3, 2020 by a US drone strike. The corvette, according to US sources, will be 65 meters long and carry eight Noor or Ghadir ASCMs hidden inside its hull, an automatic cannon and will be able to carry a helicopter. The Qeshm Madkandaloo Shipbuilding Cooperative shipyard on Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz is also building a missile catamaran for the IRGC. It will be about 50 meters long and 14 meters wide and will be armed with four Noor or Ghadir missile launchers. The commissioning of these warships with the IRGC's Navy will make it possible to expand their operational deployment area beyond the Persian Gulf.

Unfortunately, the Iranian Navy suffers losses due to high accident rates for a variety of reasons. For example, the above frigate Damavand was lost on January 10, 2018, when it crashed into a breakwater during a storm while putting in the Bandar Anzali naval base in the Caspian Sea. Two sailors went missing in the accident. Most weapons and electronic equipment were removed from the ship with cranes before it sank. Since the storm persisted for several days, there seemed little left of the hull. However, the Iranian authorities said they would lift and repair the ship. Recently, the frigate Damavand was indeed launched at the Bandar-Anzali shipyard. It is a new ship, which will be equipped with some of the salvaged weapons and equipment from the lost frigate.

In May 2020, a Noor missile fired by the frigate Jamaran engaged a larger radio-contrast target the naval ship Konarak converted from a passenger/cargo vessel rather than a training target during firing exercises. Nineteen sailors were killed and 15 injured. The ship itself sank.

On the night of June 2, 2021, the Iranian Navy's largest ship, the supply vessel Kharg with a total displacement of 3,540 tons, caught fire at the Iranian port of Jask. The ship was preparing for a long-distance training voyage and had 400 crew and cadets on board. All of them were rescued, but the Kharg was completely burnt out and sank.

Finally, on December 7, 2021, the reconnaissance ship Talayieh based on the Moudge-class frigate, which was under construction, capsized in a dry dock at Bandar Abbas.  One serviceman was killed. Nothing was reported about the cause of the accident.

From all of the above, it follows that Iranian sailors and shipbuilders need to improve discipline, safety and naval culture.

There is one more thing that needs to be mentioned. Dividing the Iranian Navy into two parallel structures complicates their management and creates unnecessary competition, and ultimately increases costs. While in the beginning the establishment of the IRGC Navy was objectively justified, today the simultaneous existence of two navies in Iran looks controversial. And this situation will need to be resolved sooner or later.