Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Tactics and Strategy at the Strait of Hormuz

by Luis de Sousa Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 03:11:47 AM EST

Afonso de Albuquerque arrived at the Indian Ocean in 1506 commanding a squadron of five war vessels integrated in Tristo da Cunha's Armada. In the summer of 1507, after the conquest of Socotra, the Armada's main objective, Afonso de Albuquerque parted on its own commanding a fleet of six vessels and 500 marines to take the easternmost island at the entrance of the Persian Gulf, called by local folk Hormuz. Defeating a garrison of 15 000 men with his artillery, Albuquerque took Hormuz and commissioned the construction of a fortress. Though not exactly making the narrowest point of the passage between the Persian and Oman Gulfs, this island would eventually lend its name to one of the most important choke-points of the Indian Ocean, at the time the principal commercial pathway of commodities from Asia to Europe. With him Afonso de Albuquerque had brought from Lisbon a sealed letter from the King appointing as Vice-King to the East Indies, replacing Francisco de Almeida, whose strict naval prowess strategy didn't fancy the territory thirsty King. A period of indecision ensued, with most naval officers in the region initially refusing Albuquerque's rule and Hormuz was lost. In 1515, in his final days as Vice-King, Afonso de Albuquerque stormed Hormuz once again, taking it for good without military resistance; the fortress, that lasts to this day, was finally completed, sealing the command over the commerce in the region.

After the Portuguese came the Persians and then the English; the importance of the fortress waned, but of the Strait of Hormuz itself, if anything, it has only increased. Commodities flow in the opposite way these days, but unlike the luxury and exoticism of the past, today they are vital inputs to the world economy.

front-paged by afew

This is a cross-post from AtTheEdgeOfTime.


About a month ago, when Iranian officials started venting the idea of closing the Strait of Hormuz to commercial traffic, the western media was prompt in bringing back the events of 1981. At that time Iranian forces spawned sea mines in the Strait and engaged commercial vessels with rubber speedboats, in what was largely seen as pathetic actions. The media seems to think that Iranian officials are talking about the same sort of tactics today. In reality the military technology deployed by Iran in the region is completely different today, making up for a military scenario totally apart from that of 30 years ago.

Before moving on, it is worth taking a closer look at the geography of the region. First of all Iran is a very large country, with an area of almost 1 700 000 km2 making up more than Spain, France, Italy and Germany combined. To its south Iran has a long coast, almost 1700 km long, that makes up all of the north shores of the Persian Gulf (hence the name) and of the Gulf of Oman. Along this coast lay numerous islands of assorted sizes, including Levan, Hendorabi, Kish, Forur, Sirri, Abu Masa, the Tunb twins, Qeshm, Hengrn, Lark and of course Hormuz. All these island are found west of the Strait, Hormuz being effectively the eastern most of them all; Qeshm is by far the largest of these islands, with 1490 km2, it is larger than all the other islands together. Contrary to what its name suggests, the narrowest section of the Strait is along the south eastern shores of Qeshm, between the smaller islands of Hengrn and Lark. Between Lark and the smaller isles of Oman there are less than 40 km. Sovereignty over the Strait waters is divided by Iran and Oman, the northern half is shallower, less suitable for large vessel navigation; being deeper, the Omani half provides for the narrow naval corridors that make up what has been for centuries one of the world's most important commercial routes.

The Strait of Hormux. Source: Wikipaedia.

In the first part of this log I'll look into the military technology Iran has today to act on the Strait; then I'll drawn several hypothetical strategic scenarios that may develop in the region.

Part I - Iran's tactical options around the Strait of Hormuz

In this part I'll go through several technologies that seem relevant in the military chess of the region; though somewhat long, this list isn't exhaustive. I've no access to military intelligence, hence consider this a picture with many blanks to fill. Besides that, it is important to note that the weaponry industry recurs today to many of the marketing tactics used by civilian industries, the information they release to the public should never be taken as complete or totally accurate. And finally, many of the weapons here described were never used in combat (and I hope they never will) which only adds to the uncertainty of the information in the public domain.

I.I Anti-Ship Missiles

The most important weapons Iran has in the region are its anti-ship missiles, a plethora of technologies that allow to remotely target sea vessels without much exposure. The following paragraphs run down from smaller to largest.

C-701 and derivatives

These are small air to surface missiles developed in China to target small vessels, with less than 200 tones displacement. They are subsonic and have a short operational range, no more than 20 km, but its low flight altitude, less than 20 meters, and the continuously development of its guiding system guarantee a high rate of accuracy, over 95%. China seems to produce a special version with an upgraded guidance system of this missile for the external market called C-703. Iran itself produces internally another version developed to be launched from ground vehicles (and possibly sea vessels), called the Kowsar. With further upgrades to its guidance system, Iranian officials have claimed it can resist electronic interference. Due to its short range, this family of missiles need some sort of exposure to be deployed outside Iran's borders, even in the Strait, to have to either by fired from the air or from small sea vessels. This requires some degree of air supremacy for a sustainable usage during a military conflict.

A Kowsar was likely the weapon used by the Hezbollah to hit the INS Hanit, 10 nautical miles (18 km) off Beirut in 2006. The Israeli corvette (over 1000 tons displacement) was severely damaged but remained afloat: with propulsion systems functioning partially it was able to retreat to safety and head back to Israel for repairs. A controversial aspect about this event was the fact that the automatic missile defence system on board the corvette was switched off, thus it remains unknown how resilient is the Kowsar to this sort of defence.

C-704 and Nasr-1

This is the big brother to the C-701, with similar top speed, cruise altitude and accuracy. The main difference is its size, capable of transporting a warhead of 130 kg, four times that of the C-701, thus able to menace sea vessels up to 4000 tones of displacement. Another difference is a higher range, over 30 km, thus able to hit targets in Omani waters from land based launchers. Their main strength seems to be their low cost compared to other weapons able to target similar vessels. The number of units Iran has acquired from China is not public.

In 2008 Iran successfully tested a home made missile called Nasr-1 that seems to be an upgrade of the C-704, with a larger warhead (150 kg) and a slightly longer range. Iranian officials have since then been quoted in the press saying Iran is presently mass producing these missiles; how many it may have produced already is an open question. Further tests have followed, always presented to the press as a success.

The relevance of this class of short range missiles is its numbers, though I couldn't track down a precise figure, some reports pointed to an arsenal over 300 units already at the beginning of the century, before both the Nasr-1 and the Kowsar went into production.

C-601 and other Silkworm class missiles

This was a class of very large missiles developed in China from originally Soviet designs. During the Iran-Iraq war the Chinese sold them to both sides and they were used in several important actions during the conflict. In general, these missiles carry half tone warheads and have operational ranges in excess of 150 km. The C-601 was the air launched class of this family that was also used by Iran against Iraq. Earlier versions were not very accurate (about 70% hit probability) and today wouldn't have much chance against modern defence systems. China kept supplying these missiles and an upgraded version, the C-201, to the Middle East; in 1988 sales of these weapons to Iran officially stopped, but Iran has today the capabilities to produce them. I haven't found information on numbers and more importantly, on what technological upgrades Iran may have introduced. In any case the original Silkworm version is a very able weapon to hit commercial vessels or other unprotected civilian targets, like it successfully did during the Iran-Iraq war.

C-802 and Noor

The C-802 is a high-range, high-accuracy missile developed in China. It is a two stage rocket, that once at cruise speed detaches part of the fuselage containing the take-off fuel. Cruising speed is just under Mach 1 (the speed of sound) and the autopilot can lower cruise altitude below 10 meters if the sea isn't rough. It is highly resilient to electronic interference and has a low radar signature; accuracy is reported in excess of 98%. It carries a 165 kg warhead capable of piercing warship armour. This missile is also thought for large vessels, even larger than those targeted by the C-704. With a range of 200 km, this is clearly a fierce weapon, providing its owner serious military projection.

Iran ordered 150 C-802 from China in 1991. Shipping eventually stopped in 1996 under the pressure of the US with only 60 units delivered, a move that attests the relevance of this weapon. Though they can be deployed from air, sea or land, it is though that Iran has all its C-802 in mobile land launchers, spread around the shores of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.

In spite of the suspension of deliveries from China, Iran was able to develop its own version of this missile, called Noor, possibly introducing further developments. Numbers are unknown but this weapon has been in production for several years; at least one successful test was reported by the press in 2006. This is one of the tactical questions of the Strait of Hormuz: how many Noor missiles has Iran and how accurate they are. Even so, the 60 C-802 are enough a menace by themselves.

An Iranian warship firing a Noor missile. Source: MidEastSecurity.co.uk.

SS-N-22 Moskit

This is the most important sea warfare weapon Iran has. Originally called Moskit, it was designed at the end of the Cold War by the USSR specifically to avoid NATO anti-missile defences. First of all it is very fast, cruising at Mach 3 at high altitude and Mach 2.2 near the surface; at maximum speed this missile can cross the Strait of Hormuz from coast to coast in less than one minute. Secondly it is capable of executing random changes of direction when closing the target, thus making it very difficult for automatic defences to calculate its trajectory. This is a large missile, weighting 4.5 tones, capable of transporting a warhead of 320 kg; its range is reported differently at different sources but modern versions seem to reach more than 100 km. This technology was inherited by Russia whom has continued their development, producing more advanced versions. This family of missiles is usually referenced as the deadliest naval weapon in existence, with an accuracy rate over 99%.

Visiting Moscow in 2001 the Iranian Defence Minister requested a demonstration of these missiles and was impressed enough to order an undisclosed amount. Apart from this information is scant, though speculation abounds. For sure Iran has this weapon, but in what quantities and exactly which version is not public. Was the order in 2001 the only one or has Iran continued to buy these missiles? Has Iran acquired older or modern versions, in particular the upgraded Yukhon?

In the first years of the last decade, when it became known Russia was selling these missiles to China, India and Iran, speculation spurred that NATO had no effective defence against them. Being known for more than two decades at the time, NATO surely has had the time to study ways to defend itself against these weapons. Nevertheless, NATO has never faced such missiles in combat and considering the close distances in the Strait and the possibility of Iran using several of them in a simultaneous attack, the hypothesis of relevant damage inflicted in case they ever come to be employed seems reasonable.

A Moskit missile. Source: Tactical Missiles Coorporation.

Apart from these air borne missiles Iran also possesses torpedoes worth writing about.

Hoot torpedo

This is another weapon that attests Iran's abilities to produce warfare material. The Hoot is a supercavitating torpedo, meaning that it travels through water inside a gas bubble, thus greatly reducing attrition. It is much faster that any torpedo used by NATO, able to reach speeds of 200 knots, which should made it more difficult to defend against. It greatly resembles a defensive torpedo developed in the old Soviet Union that is still produced today by Russia, the Shkval, but in this case there are no reports of Iran having ever acquired the original. Claiming to have developed a totally independent design, Iran has successfully tested these home built torpedoes in recent years, always as offensive weapons. Notwithstanding its impressive speed, uncertainty remains on the effectiveness of these torpedoes, its range should be relatively small and should be noisy enough to be identified right from launch. As with all weapons produced by Iran, the main threat may the numbers available.

I.II Navy

Part of Iran's anti-ship weapons require some sort of naval vessel to be employed far from the shore. Iran's navy thus is another important piece of the puzzle.


Most of Iran's submersible fleet is composed by midget submarines. This class of vessel was originally thought for infiltration operations, but in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf they acquire different purposes. Their small size first of all allows them to be manoeuvred in the shallow northern shores of Gulf and secondly make them harder to detect by sonar. Iran has in recent years built 17 Ghadir class submarines, that are capable of deploying Hoot torpedoes. To these add 4 old Yugo class submarines built in North Korea from an Yugoslavian design. In the shallow waters of Iran these small vessels should be hard to detect and able to deploy mines and torpedoes without being immediately detected.

Iran acquired 3 Kilo class submarines from Russia in the early 1990s. These are about twice the size of the Ghadir, and conceived specifically for anti-ship operations in shallow waters. They are built with special tiles that distort and absorb sound, making it harder to detect by sonar at long distance.

An Iranian Ghadir class submarine. Source: The Asian Defense.

Missile Ships

These are small and fast attack ships, conceived for near shore operations. Iran has 10 Houdong class vessels built in China capable of carrying 8 large size missiles. In the late 1970s Iran ordered 12 Kaman class gunboats of which 10 are still in service. In recent years Iran was able to built 4 copy cat versions named internally as the Sina class gunboat. These 14 smaller vessels carry 4 mid size anti-ship missile launchers each.


These are very small vessels carrying as single weapon two torpedo tubes. In order to be effective they have to get relatively close to their targets, thus largely exposing to enemy fire. They rely on their high speed to be successful, both in approaching the target and retreating back to safety. Iran has over 70 Peykaap class vessels, partially of its own making and another 10 Tir class units. Both of these models are reported to have maximum speeds in excess of 50 knots (over 90 km/h). A newer version, the Peykaap-II, has been fitted with two missile launchers.

In 2010 Iran introduced 12 attack speedboats inspired in sports competition vessels capable of crossing the waters at some 70 knots (about 130 km/h). Called Zolfaqhar, beyond torpedoes, they can carry two small launchers to deploy Kowsar class missiles. Iranian officials have told the press mass production of this class of speedboat started in 2011; the exact numbers the navy may have at this stage is unknown.

An Iranian Peykaap class speedboat armed with missile launchers. Source: Fars News Agency.

Other vessels

Iran has several larger vessels that can also deploy anti-ship missiles. They are themselves relatively easy targets, hence their role in an armed conflict is uncertain. In recent years Iran has built 3 frigates, reverse engineered from 3 other bought from the UK before the revolution; to these add 3 corvettes acquired in the 1960s. It has also 6 coastal patrol ships (3 recently build and 3 legacy from the pre-revolution), 2 mine-layers, 14 hover-crafts and over 20 amphibious vehicles. Over 80 inshore patrol ships of assorted sizes and making, of which some classes are made in Iran.

I.III Air Force

Anti-ship missiles can also be deployed from the air and Iran has quite a long list of aircraft able to do so. Apart from that the Air Force may also have a crucial role in protecting Iran's navy and shores from NATO's air power. Following is a very condensed list by category:

  • Air superiority - 60 or more jet fighters, of which 25 MiG-29 recently updated, 25 or more F-14 Tomcat and 10 Mirage F1.

  • Multirole - over 150 jet fighters, of which 140 are 1960s F-4 and F-5 plus an unknown number of domestically developed Saeqeh (a copy of the F-5).

  • Interception - 20 Chengdu J-7 jet fighters.

  • Close air support - 13 Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighters.

  • Ground-attack - 32 Sukhoi Su-24 plus an unknown number of Azarakhsh (the first attempt by Iran to copy the F-5, in development since 1997).

  • Helicopters - over 50 of assorted designs and purposes, mostly built in US before the Revolution.

An Azarakhsh type jet fighter in flight. Source: IranDefence.net.

Apart from these there are also some noteworthy models:

  • Chengdu J-10 - This is a state of the art multi-role jet fighter developed in recent years by China. With a maximum speed over Mach 2, operational range of some 2500 km and highly manoeuvrable, it is a jet fighter perfectly able to engage NATO fighters like the F-18 on equal footing. In the realm of non-stealth, manned aircraft, this is one of the best options in terms of technology for the money in the market today. Iran acquired two squadrons (24 units) that were delivered between 2008 and 2010. Iran's Air Force made a major leap with this acquisition.

  • Chengdu/PAC JF-17 Thunder - This is a multi-role jet fighter developed by China to fulfil specific requirements of the Pakistani Air Force. With an operational rage of 1300 km and a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 it is not as powerful as the J-10 but much cheaper. Nevertheless it is able to face modern NATO aircraft, especially in defensive missions. Iran ordered an undisclosed number of these jet fighters from the Chengdu company in 2003. Due to the specificity of its requirements Chengdu renamed this version the FC-1. Production started in 2006 and from then on little is known.

  • Sukhoi Su-30 - The Su-30 was born as a Soviet counter part to the F15E Strike Eagle; developed at the end of the cold war it was conceived primarily for air interdiction missions. With a range over 3000 km and top speed of Mach 2, this a jet fighter capable of engaging any other modern military aircraft. Years ago news emerged in Israel that Iran had ordered 250 of these jet fighters from Russia, a deal that would ascend to 2 billion US$; this was never confirmed and such high figure would likely had attracted much more attention. In 2008 again Israeli journalists claimed having observed a squadron of Su-30 jets in operations during war games in Iran, a claim once more unconfirmed. Though it doesn't seem likely Iran has hundreds of these aircrafts, it seems possible that jet fighters may be among all the warfare material it has been acquiring from Russia. In case Iran possesses any relevant numbers, say 2 squadrons, it becomes an entirely different military power in the region. This is one of the great mysteries in the chessboard of the Strait of Hormuz.

A Chengdu J-10 in flight. Source: Air Power Australia.

I.IV Anti-air defences

Completing the list of relevant weapons are Iran's anti-air defences. They may determine how well Iran can protect its military assets in the shores of the Persian and Oman gulfs.

Mersad, Shahin and Shalamche

With another well advertised public demonstration Iranian officials announced in 2010 the serial production of the Mersad defence system. It is a fully digital radar and control system coupled to a missile launch pad, firing the Shahin missile. This missile is also produced in Iran, being an upgraded version of the US made Hawk missile, with higher and longer range and a top speed of Mach 2.6. Development of this system has been continuous and during 2011 a new version of the missile was successfully tested. Called Shalamche, it has a top speed of Mach 3 and a range of 40 km, it can hit a target 30 km away in less than 30 seconds. Deliveries of the Shalamche to Iran's Army started latest September.

A Shahin missile being fired from a Mersad launching pod. Source: ArmyRecognition.com.

S-300 and Bavar-323

The S-300 is a state-of-the-art air defence system initially developed by the USSR in the 1970s. It was inherited by Russia who kept developing, upgrading and selling it to a multitude of clients worldwide. This system is basically a semi-trailer truck transporting a radar, a firing control sub-system and a set of surface-to-air-missiles. Modern day versions can follow up to 100 targets, either jets or cruise missiles and engage 12 simultaneously in a radius of 150 km. After much speculation about a possible deal between Iran and Russia, in 2009 officials from both sides confirmed deliveries of the system would start soon. One year later Russia suspended all weapons sales to Iran in consequence of a United Nations resolution and the delivery wasn't completed. How many were delivered, if at all, isn't public, but it certainly was an insufficient number for Iran immediately started the development of its own version. Iran later claimed to have acquired further units from Belarus and another unidentified second-hand seller. Speculation exists also on a possible acquisition from Libya.

In the wake of the dbcle with the original deal, Iran made of the development of a similar system a national design, involving top civilian and military scientists. Building on its experience with short to medium range systems Iran was able to complete the first prototype of the Bavar-323 last year. Up to the moment serial production hasn't been announced.

S-200 and Fajr-8

Another ancient system developed in the USSR, inherited by Russia, sold to Iran and now replicated there. Russia has been continuously developing the system that is composed by a radar, a control system and a static missile rail. In modern versions it fires a 7 ton missile with a range of 300 km, a maximum flight altitude of 40 km and capable of flying at 7 times the speed of sound. Iran reportedly has 30 missile rails of this version, thought I couldn't find if it also possesses modern versions of the missiles. In any case Iran has for years been producing its own version, the Fajr-8, for which little to no information is available, apart from it being an upgrade to the original S-200. These missiles where thought in an epoch when high altitude nuclear bombers were the main strategic weapon a military power could have. In the narrow scenario of the Strait they may never come to have an important role, but provide Iran the ability to defend itself from air intermission at high-altitude.

Beyond these, Iran possesses a further host of surface-to-air missiles, some acquired from Russia and China and others developed internally. They range from small portable anti-helicopter anti-aircraft rockets to large, long rage, anti cruise missile systems. Operational numbers are unknown for most of these.

I.V Summary

The larger part of Iran's military technology is outdated, with several pre-revolution legacy systems still in service. Iran has through the years learnt how to reverse engineer and replicate these technologies to the point were it now possesses very relevant numbers of weapons ready to use. These home grown technologies are often publicly displayed in war games and much celebrated by armed forces officials and politicians alike. Some of these weapons are effectively dangerous, like midget submarines operating in shallow waters. Others like the missile armed speedboats are very particular weapons whose effectiveness is largely unknown. These simpler technologies are menacing much more for their numbers than anything else. They probably give Iran the ability to sustain a military conflict around the Strait for some time.

And then there are the many state-of-the-art weapons acquired from Russia and China in recent years. Regarding these, the information available to the public is scant, sometimes even contradictory, most arms deals have been shrouded in secrecy. The numbers and accuracy of these technologies are unknown in most cases, preventing a clear image of Iran's true military power. Is this uncertainty just part of an attempt by Iran to project an image of military power larger than what it actually is? Or is it part of the acquisition strategy, protecting sensible deals that could raise objections from the West? In any case, the few weapons known for certain to be owned by Iran, like the Moskit missile, the S-300 air defence system or the J-10 jet fighter are enough to caution any idea of immediate superiority by NATO over Iran.

Naval Forces around the Strait of Hormuz, click for full size. Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Part II - Strategic Scenarios

Can an armed conflict erupt at the Strait of Hormuz? How can it come about? How wide can it develop? For how long can it disrupt commercial traffic? In this part I formulate four different strategic scenarios that contemplate these questions, though not precisely answering them.

Scenario I - Direct engagement from Iran on commercial vessels at the Strait.

In this scenario Iran would employ one of its many sea borne weapons to either attack or cut the way to oil tankers leaving the Persian Gulf. This could be done by torpedoing the vessel or targeting it with a small missile; alternatively Iran could simply deploy some if its navy close to the commercial routes and emit a warning that every ship trying to cross the Strait would be sank. The effect on oil prices would be immediate, in the second case even without firing a single a shot. It would be a sheer power defiance by Iran, aiming to guarantee that economic sanctions affect every major player in the region.

This would certainly force an intervention by NATO forces in the region, a scenario that could develop in two different ways. If NATO opts simply for defending the navigation across the Strait then the multitude of weapons Iran has would likely guarantee a long period of tension with random attacks on both commercial and military vessels in the Strait. The economic consequences for the Asian importers would be dire and a worldwide recession would ensue. Otherwise NATO could opt for a large scale operation to bring down Iran's military capacities around the Strait. This would then resemble Scenarios II and III, whose outcome is not clear, especially in terms of conflict time span.

I find this scenario the least likely of all. This would not only be an attack on oil importers, it would be above all an attack on the major oil exporters around the Gulf. Iran has little interest in getting at odds with its neighbours, especially in the case of the UAE, with whom it maintains a close economic relationship. Apart from the Emirates, Iran shares maritime oil and gas resources with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, that in some cases are already under joint development. And of course there is Iraq, with which Iran shares a long border that was the stage for a long and deadly conflict in the 1980s; certainly it is in no one's interest to revive such tensions. A bold action like the one proposed in this scenario would require a totally desperate internal situation in Iran, and even so, Scenario II would be more plausible.

Scenario II - Direct engagement from Iran on military vessels in the Persian Gulf.

Instead of attacking or menacing commercial vessels, Iran could opt for an engagement on NATO's naval forces in the Persian Gulf. The effect on oil prices would be about the same as in scenario I, but without the sense of a direct attack on Iran's neighbours. Such sort of engagement could come about as a consequence of some minor incident, such as a NATO vessel entering Iran's waters or an Iranian aircraft or ship being hit. An incident like this can easily be faked if needed, but unfortunately, the growing tension and the bellicose discourse around the Strait can also provide for a real episode where at least one of the parts feels compelled to larger actions.

Invariably this scenario would lead to a large scale conflict, not only at the Strait but extending at least to Iran's long southern coastline. The outcome of such hypothetical conflict is very elusive, but one thing is certain, given Iran's profuse weaponry and extensive territory it can hardly be swift. Many uncertainties remain to devise the correct power balance in the Persian Gulf at this moment. Are Iran's wide range of anti-ship missiles and torpedoes capable of imposing damages on NATO's fleet? Not only is the effectiveness of weapons like the Russian Moskit unknown, it is neither clear the outcome of a wide simultaneous engagement with a multitude of anti-ship weapons on NATO's vessels. In the worst case NATO's fleet may be forced back to its naval bases in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and operate solely from the Gulf of Oman. If something like this would ever come to happen, oil shipments across the Strait would be certainly affected for a long period of time, the impact on the world economy would be devastating.

A second question is Iran's capabilities in air defence. Can NATO project its air prowess as it did in the Balkans, Iraq or Libya? It will for sure face a sort of opposition it never did, both in the number and in the technology of anti-air missiles detained today by Iran. If adding to these Iran effectively possesses relevant numbers of modern day jet fighters, then air dominance over Iran becomes completely uncertain. Nevertheless, NATO retains technology that Iran has no known counter measures against, especially state of the art stealth aircraft built in the US. Hence it is certain that in case of such a large scale military conflict NATO can continuously target military objectives in Iran, eventually deriding its operational capabilities. The question is how long such conflict can last and menace oil shipments across the Strait. Stabilization of the region could require a sort of military commitment NATO might have never been forced into. How could this play out with a ramping oil price conflated with the ongoing economic environment is hard to envision.

Though I find this scenario more plausible than scenario I, it still remains quite remote. Iran's government still has other options to explore before finding itself in a desperate situation where military action becomes attractive.

Scenario III - Military engagement by NATO on Iran

In such scenario NATO would opt for a pre-emptive attack on Iran, both targeting Iran's Nuclear facilities and military assets around the Strait. This scenario has been spun both in Israel and the US, especially since Iran menaced to close the Strait in retaliation against the hardening of economic sanctions. While it has been largely dismissed by the wider political spectrum, it should be noted that from a strict military perspective this is the conflict scenario that could be less costly for NATO members. Taking the initiative, it could guarantee the shortest disruption possible to the flow of oil through the Strait. Most of this oil (85%) feeds Asia, NATO members are already in course to phase out Iranian oil imports and the strategic oil reserves coordinated by the IEA would provide means to accommodate the economical impact for some time.

The first problem with this strategy is if NATO is not able to promptly achieve air superiority over Iran, in such case not being able to tame the country's menace to the oil flow in the Strait in a timely manner. As stated before, this largely depends on the numbers of modern aircraft and air defences Iran effectively possesses, if a relevant resistance to NATO's air power is achieved then a situation similar to the worst case of scenario II could develop.

Finally, in the case a wider military conflict develops between NATO and Iran a much bigger question arises on how other military powers may react. In recent months military officials from both China and Russia have made it clear they wouldn't remain passive in face of such conflict. This discourse may be an important deterrent to this scenario or any wider conflict in consequence of scenarios I or II.

With the information I could gather, it seems to me this option is risky (or at least uncertain) enough for NATO not to take at this stage. It should remain a remote hypothesis, at least as long as real evidence of a military nuclear programme in Iran doesn't come about. Finally I should point out that considering Iran's vast arsenal, a lone attack by Israel seems highly unlikely, at least with conventional weapons.

Scenario IV - No military action

At this stage the most likely scenario is for no bellic actions to take place. This scenarios has several requirements, but all achievable. In first place the Iranian government has to stabilize its currency, so far this has been achieved by cracking down independent trade of foreign currency and gold, first by disabling the electronic means to do so and then by outlawing such activities. On this regard more will have to happen, the government has to somehow re-establish public trust on the internal economic system. And then Iran must find ways to continue selling its oil, either by finding alternative importers, like Korea, that are not complying with US sanctions, or by "smuggling" oil to neighbouring countries, that then sell it as their own. The fact that about 30% of Iran's foreign trade takes place in the parallel economy can be an important start for this alternative trade. It is unclear what role the joint oil developments in the Persian Gulf may play, but they can provide a further workaround for Iran to maintain its oil revenues. Iran's economy will be undoubtedly impacted, but has seen in a previous log it is rather self-sufficient, especially in Agriculture. Some consumer goods may become difficult to get, as it is already happening with consumer electronics, but Iran should be able to provide the basic needs of its people in the short term and once again seek alternative sources for its imports. If this scenario unfolds, it could simply result in a regionalization of Iran's trade, geographically constraining commercial exchanges to the Middle and Far East. Naturally China can play a major role in this process, while some officials have been suggesting a compliance with the US line, it is of China's interest to keep Iran somewhat inside its sphere of influence.

The only issue with this scenario is that it doesn't guarantee to the US and NATO that Iran's nuclear programme is halted. By the contrary, the technical advances of Iran's nuclear technology keep on going, as recently announced by President Ahmadinejad. Though no evidence exists that this programme has military ambitions, those countries fearful of such perspective, especially Israel, may get no reassurances at all from the increased sanctions. Will they rest quiet while Iran proceeds with the programme? This is why the previous three scenarios, though unlikely, are plausible.


The balance of interests around the Strait of Hormuz can be analysed from a Games Theory perspective. All players profit from the trade that passes in both senses through this choke-point, any disruption has a negative impact on all of them; since they all stand to loose, no player changes strategy and the game remains in equilibrium. The sanctions imposed by the NATO members on Iran menace this equilibrium, they can eventually translate into an effective disruption of Strait, for the large part closing it to Iran. NATO has chosen this strategy because it now evaluates the equilibrium as having a negative impact: the hypothetical nuclear menace from Iran. On its turn, if the Iranian foreign trade is seriously impacted then further disruption to the Strait stops having a negative impact internally and a strategy change to active disruption becomes profitable because it has negative impacts on other players. NATO has indeed played boldly and it remains to be seen how deep the consequences may be.

For now military action seems a remote hypothesis. Iran still has other options to maintain the Strait open to its ports, in spite of the sanctions. And naturally Iran can always at some point decide to abide to the inspections by the IAEA. From the NATO side military action appears likewise an unlikely scenario, Iran's prolific military technology seems a deterrent on its own, to which adds unpredictable reactions from other major players at the global scale.

If a military conflict ever comes to develop around the Strait of Hormuz on the wake of this new batch of sanctions, it will be a definitive clarification of power over the region. In the three decades following the proclamation of the Carter Doctrine, wars in the region raged for a total of 20 years. NATO imports ever less oil from the Persian Gulf and its economic might has clearly waned during the last decade. Is the Carter Doctrine still affordable these days? Is it even practicable? A military clash at the Strait of Hormuz will for sure answer these questions.

There is a scenario five, which I personally rate as more probable: Limited NATO strikes against Iranian targets, which are met with only limited resistance. Because:

(a) The damage done by perfunctory air strikes of the sort deployed against Serbia in the Kosova conflict is economically and militarily insignificant.

(b) Iran does not wish to escalate the conflict. Escalating, such as by mounting a spirited defence of their airspace against aggressors, would risk turning a mostly meaningless dick-waving contest into a serious shooting war. Which Iran would lose.

(c) A shelled out apartment complex or two and a couple of downed enemy warplanes make great propaganda footage.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 07:23:03 AM EST
There are also precedents for your kind of scenario - like the one-off bombing of Libya by Reagan and various "no-fly" zones and the like.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 09:23:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
While I wouldn't say NATO wouldn't try something like this, such strategy wouldn't guarantee: a) that the Strait remains open, or at least free of disruption; b) that the Iranian Nuclear programme is halted. In my view this strategy would easily escalate into a full scale conflict.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]protonmail[dot]ch) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 10:45:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you're right that it's still a risky strategy, but the "serious people" seem to have put a lot of energy into the concept that "Iran is about to become a nuclear power and we have to do something about it..."

So some kind of action is, I suspect, quite a high likelihood.

But I think there's enough opposition (and memories of Iraq and Afghanistan) to keep it to something less than a full scale conflict - at least at first.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 10:51:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On further reflection, one can argue that the elites pretty much always use the template of "the most recent successful intervention" as the basis for their decisions.

Thus we should probably expect the CIA to try to stir up a resistance group in one region of Iran and unofficial action alongside a no-fly zone (a la Libya) to be the approach.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 10:53:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem with that is that the Iranian dissidents probably remember how the last American-sponsored regime change in Persia turned out.

I wouldn't place any expensive bets on them picking the CIA over the mullahs.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 11:10:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They've been supporting various terrorist groups there for ages. As for a no-fly zone, can you get a UN resolution? If not, are you going to start shooting down Chinese and Russian planes?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 11:27:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
While I wouldn't say NATO wouldn't try something like this, such strategy wouldn't guarantee: a) that the Strait remains open, or at least free of disruption; b) that the Iranian Nuclear programme is halted. In my view this strategy would easily escalate into a full scale conflict.

Oh, I completely agree on the possibility that such an attack might spiral out of control. Particularly if they hit a target that actually hurts, or if they misjudge the mood of the Iranians, or if the Iranian air defence gets a little too enthusiastic with causing mechanical failures on the Israeli jets. But I'm working under the assumption that the US and Israel (Israel in particular) is run by psychopaths who are perfectly prepared to risk such an escalation to get a good photo-op of a burning building for domestic dick-waving purposes.

It won't stop the nuclear programme, of course - you just can't do that with that sort of limited air war, as has been proven time and time again in theatres ranging from Germany to Kosova. But stopping the Iranian nuclear programme has never been the point, which is why it does not feature in my analysis at all.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 11:06:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting point, though I would be less strained in using the term psychopath.

One important detail converging with your view is that the sanctions where sort of imposed by the US Congress on Obama, I sometimes wonder if this isn't solely related to the elections there.


by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]protonmail[dot]ch) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 04:10:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the other hand the internal political situation in Iran may make it imperative for Iran to have some similar response, such as sinking or seriously damaging  a NATO warship or a commercial vessel. Whether both sides could then agree to a truce would be the question. Both sides would then run the risk of being portrayed as weak by internal political opponents.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 11:26:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, that's the risk you always run when you use military action to wrap yourself in the flag for domestic consumption.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 11:32:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I believe that Hezbollah firing rockets to Israel is more likely response than a direct strike against USA or Israel by Iran. Compared to USA Israel is less likely to feel it is compelled to start all out war against Iran if it attacked by proxies of Iran. I also think that the same reason increases likelyhood of Israel attacking Iran instead of USA.
by Jute on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 04:24:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But given Iran's defensive arsenal, Israel on its own may prove ineffective. If Iran's air force and AA defenses are any good operationally, that would be a strategic blunder for Israel. If their bombers were shot down without attaining any significant objectives, and without retaliation, the USA would have no excuse to intervene, and Iran's status would be considerably enhanced.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 04:54:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I have always looked upon the issue of the Straits of Hormuz as a wonderful bluff by iran. Basically if your response the the US destroying your nuclear weapons programme (or part thereof) is to fire a couple of missiles at random targets in the Hormuz then, tbh, you've already lost.

I would imagine that Iran, if it had any sense (debatable I know) would already have retaliatory capability in place within the USA for massive overwhelming counterstrike.

But i thought Iraq would do the same thing and they didn't.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 02:49:50 PM EST
I would imagine that Iran, if it had any sense (debatable I know) would already have retaliatory capability in place within the USA for massive overwhelming counterstrike.

That would entail existential risks for Iran. If WMDs were found in the possession of Iranians in the USA there would be unbearable pressure to retaliate against Iran with 'regime change' as the goal. Absent a clear Iranian provocation against domestic US targets the situation is much cloudier. None of the recent retaliations against Israel have been in countries that could hurt Iran.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 07:40:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No it doesn't have to be like that at all. I really don't want to get into any sort of detail online but you don't need much of anything to really hurt any western country if you target imaginatively enough and what you do need can very happily sit undisturbed until required.

And if Iran can't find some clean (non-persian looking) skins somewhere, then they really aren't very bright.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 05:38:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Deterrence is useless if no one knows about it. Yet successful sabotage demands total secrecy. It will also change nothing about the ultimate outcome of any conflict.
So why bother at all?
by generic on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 07:15:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can't answer for the Iranians, I'm simply here outlining what I would do in their place.

A country like Iran cannot threaten the US openly; the nature of asymmetric warfare demands subterfuge and hidden intent. Such a strategy depends primarily on the idea that the US and Israel cannot mount a killer first strike within the first 24 hours, which gives it time to mobilise and effect its sleeper response.

however, this response must be capable of delivering a catastrophic blow to the enemy at one stroke or it is inviting Dresdenisation upon the entire country. We're not talking about a 9-11 here, we're talking about something that would neuter their ability to maintain military action against the homeland.

This can be done and quite straightforwardly, but i don't think these people think like that.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 08:34:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And I'd like to make it quite clear right now that I am not advocating that Iran should do this, or that I want the West to lose.

I am simply saying that, if I was in their place, I'd view rattling sabres about Hormuz as a good distracting bluff to cover preparations for a more effective retaliation. Cos if your retaliation consists of sinking ships in hormuz, you've already lost.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 08:45:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
extra details,  The UK has Half of its total Mine countermeasures fleet present in the gulf, the US has an equal sized MCM fleet,  Mines are the IED of Naval warfare and do a great deal to even up the odds between heavy Blue water navies and Coastal navys.

secondly, the  difficult part of the  route is not the eastern end at the actual straits, at that point The deep channels run out of coastal artillery range from any point of Iranian Land rather the western part around the islands. there, you can have a selection of missiles, torpedos and coastal artillery hitting all at once. To avoid these the only way to run tankers out is to run them half full to reduce the draught so they can be run in the shallower parts of the gulf, away from Iranian controlled seaspace. and even then, that only reduces exposure to a minimum, rather than removing it all together,  The east end also has the disadvantage that legally, the shipping lanes are within the territory of another state,  legally justifying further close US basing.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 03:40:28 PM EST
I don't think that mining would be very effective.  My guess would be that the Iranians aren't going to make a move until either the embargo takes hold in 6 months or the Israelis decide that now is a good time to attack nuclear facilities.

Either way, I think that the first move would be the use of suicide speedboats, a la USS Cole. An opening move that sunk an an aircraft carrier present an obstacle to navigation, and force US forces to run air operations from much further afield. Take out air support, and the range of actions available to the US/UK drop pretty rapidly.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 03:58:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In a serious shooting war, yes. But if it comes to a serious shooting war, then Iran has already lost. I'm assuming that the Iranian government understands that fact, because if they were suicidal they wouldn't still be around.

So the Iranian strategy is essentially to persuade the US that an attack is more trouble than it's worth. That means hitting screen, not capital ships. Because if you start sinking American capital ships, the Americans will have to destroy you pour encourager les autres. The Americans simply can't afford letting the precedent stand that you can get away with knocking their capital ships out of the water.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 05:19:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jake, why do you say that if a full conflict develops Iran has already lost?

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]protonmail[dot]ch) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 03:11:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
match, meet flamethrower. Game over.

Iran loses in an all out shooting war. Their best bet is to get invaded, the leadership hide out in Afpak and then to grind the occupation expensively over time as in Iraq.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 05:41:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If a more than halfway industrialised country becomes involved in a serious war against an enemy who has even a sporting chance of fighting back, the best they can hope for is a Pyhrric victory. Even if Iran were to send an American invasion force back in plastic bags, they would have no realistic expectation of recouping the expenditure of men, machines and materials through spoils. That makes any large-scale conflict a strategic defeat, regardless of the tactical outcome.

Iran probably understands that. The Iran-Iraq war certainly provided an instructive and memorable example.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 11:26:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jake, History tells us that there are many ways to win a war. Who won the Vietnam war? A military defeat of NATO would mean a loss of control over the Strait, that would be the ultimate spoil of war. Apart from that the political/religious implications would be huge.

But I doubt Iran can impose a military defeat on NATO, at least alone.


by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]protonmail[dot]ch) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 04:19:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know if anybody could be said to have won the war in Viet Nam. Hell, I don't even know who lost worse.

The whole point I'm trying to get across here is that in war it's a whole lot easier to make the other guy lose than it is to win. Negative sum games will do that to you.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 04:28:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't even know who lost worse.

It was an existential threat to Hanoi, one which they survived. It was largely the byproduct of political football in the USA, plus defense of the sacred cold war "domino theory" beloved of Dean Rusk, Henry Kissenger, et al. The USA would have had to cauterize most of Vietnam and the Mekong River valley in order to prevail, and that would have assumed that China stayed out. Had it gone nuclear we might have had a test case for the nuclear winter hypothesis.

As the threat was greater to the Vietnamese - it was their country - they were prepared to pay a higher price. The problem for the US was that the collateral damage to the economy and society was too high to bear for much longer and yet we were hoist on the petard of our own "Peace with Honor" rhetoric. The wounds and divisions remain in the USA to this day, as they almost certainly do in Vietnam. Those wounds were the price for John Foster Dulles and other Eisenhower Era functionaries having tried to pick up 'the white man's burden' from the French.


"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 05:52:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure this is the case.

US military force doesn't translate will into battlefields where the enemy employs assymetric warfare.  And absent airpower, the ability of the United States to project power into the region is seriously limited.

I also question whether there Iranian perspective on this doesn't see the recent uprest in the Arab World as an opening. Agree or disagree with the premise, the recent conference on the Arab Spring in Teheran suggests that the Iranians see these protesters as a potential fifth column. Attacks on Ras Tanura and oil infrastructure would allow the Iranians to punch way above their weight.  If they think that they can pull that off, it may be that they think that they can force the US to withdraw from the region.

Reality aside, perception is what motivates action.  Even if there is ultimately zero chance that they can win, the Iranians may think that they can.  That being the case, things could go to shit because of misperception.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 03:25:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are lots of American air bases along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf that could stand in for a carrier, though. And the Arab Spring is mostly a North African thing so far, which is an awful long way away from Iran.

It's obviously always possible for things to go to shit because one or both sides misapprehend their relative strength. But trying to carry the day with foreign irregulars and a Brilliant, Decisive First Strike... That plan just has "catastrophe" written all over it.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 04:13:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But trying to carry the day with foreign irregulars and a Brilliant, Decisive First Strike... That plan just has "catastrophe" written all over it.

After the Bush administration I think we should that even presumably sane countries go a little crazy from time to time.

Sarcasm aside. The main thing I'd point out is that understanding what the Iranian government thinks is the situation probably tells us more about they will do than what the situation actually is.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 04:26:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mines are wonderful, cheap, cheap things. You can litterally throw tens of thousand of them into the sea in a day or two. Any ship can do it: in the old Swedish cold war planning even all those big white cruise liners and the icebreakers where to be mobilized and filled with mines for preemptive mining if the risk of war became too great.

Clearing mines is boring, dangerous and very time-consuming. Not very fun to hang around clearing mines when someone might fire anti-ship missile from nondescript truck-launchers onshore either.

On top of this, mine countermeasures is the ugly bastard child of the US Navy. The mighty US Navy has 14 mine countermeausre vessels, compared to the 11 of the at-best midrange Royal Swedish Navy. To improve things even further, the US mine ships are in a really bad state.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 12:24:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
11 dedicated ships plus another 5 which has mine clearance as a secondary role, so a grand total of 16.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 12:35:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
reported to be 4 in theatre on the map at the top and 4 uk ones

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 01:55:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and you only need one to appear, first ship that's transiting the straights that seas a mine floating by, Or explodes, as floating ones are out of date, or if the Iranians announce they are shutting the straights and theyve mined them, and insurance rates instantly go through the roof, and with them oil prices

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 02:03:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Btw, the Ghadir class submarines are very able to do it. And also to fire happy torpedoes.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]protonmail[dot]ch) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 04:19:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Lets just hope this whole thing can be resolved in a sensible way.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Feb 15th, 2012 at 09:26:34 PM EST
One wonders if the Iranians read War Nerd:

The War Nerd: This Is How the Carriers Will Die (Updated Version) - By Gary Brecher - The eXiled

The Chinese military has developed a ballistic missile, Dong Feng 21, specifically designed to kill US aircraft carriers: "Because the missile employs a complex guidance system, low radar signature and a maneuverability that makes its flight path unpredictable, the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased. It is estimated that the missile can travel at mach 10 and reach its maximum range of 2000km in less than 12 minutes." That's the US Naval Institute talking, remember. They're understating the case when they say that, with speed, satellite guidance and maneuverability like that, "the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased."

You know why that's an understatement? Because of a short little sentence I found farther on in the article--and before you read that sentence, I want all you trusting Pentagon groupies to promise me that you'll think hard about what it implies. Here's the sentence: "Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack."

That's right: no defense at all. The truth is that they have very feeble defenses against any attack with anything more modern than cannon. I've argued before no carrier group would survive a saturation attack by huge numbers of low-value attackers, whether they're Persians in Cessnas and cigar boats or mass-produced Chinese cruise missiles. But at least you could look at the missile tubes and Phalanx gatlings and pretend that you were safe. But there is no defense, none at all, against something as obvious as a ballistic missile.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt t gmail dotcom) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 08:44:21 AM EST
Yes, but that only works in battles between matched actors ie US vs china or asymmetric war between small stateless terrorist unit vs state actor.

for a small state to take out a capital ship of a large armed-to-the-teeth-and-spoiling-for-a-fight nation would be pretty suicidal. If Iran sank the Kitty Hawk or similar carrier, Tehran would be replaced by a smoking hole in the ground. However vulnerable, Iran has to leave capital ships alone.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 08:50:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The object is political and economic, not military.

The West is extremely vulnerable to an oil price hike, and all Iran has to do is blow some shit up to create that price hike.

It doesn't matter if Iran sinks a carrier, or if Iran has crappy pilots. Rest of World has around a week to prove that Iranian action - whatever it is - is ineffective and that the oil flows as normal.

If it takes more than a week, the West is in serious trouble.

It's impossible to imagine action taking less than a week. The only successful outcome for the West would be total regime change in Iran - and it's unlikely China or Russia would allow that, because China particularly needs access to Iranian oil.

See e.g. this from Bloomberg.

This is not primarily a military problem. It's an economic one. And when Iran has something the rest of the world needs, bombing the country back to the Stone Age makes no sense as a response.

Given that Iraq is still ramping up production and the Saudis are struggling, there's very little elasticity in the oil supply. So turning Tehran into a smoking crater would be a very, very bad idea - even if led to regime change instead of an extended Iraq-style civil war, which I think is the more likely outcome of any attempt to invade or destroy.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 12:33:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The fact that it would be insane to do something does not reliably discourage the American government from doing it anyway (see, e.g., Iraq).

Iran needs to have a reasonable chance of winning for it to want to start a war. Just making the other guy lose is not sufficient.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 12:46:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That it would be insane is no surety the Iranians won't do anything either. Sometimes, people just do crazy things.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 12:56:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Iranians, however, have had a demonstration of the destructive power of modern warfare within living memory. One hopes it was convincing, given the scale of human and industrial destruction it entailed.

The Americans have not had such a demonstration since 1865.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 02:49:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Does Iran have any of these missiles? He doesn't say.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 09:39:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, that Moskit sounds roughly comparable.

Or just sufficiently redundant low-tech would probably do the trick.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt t gmail dotcom) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 12:46:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well  one thing that has to be said, is that the performance figures are possibly from US arms manufacturers who wish to exagerate the performance so the latest whiz-bang defence technology can be sold in reverse. I'm not saying that that is the case, but both sides during the cold war had a consistent strategy of emphasizing the others military capabilities to  sell thing so their own sides and populace.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 10:30:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is the US saying that it has no defence against China's weapons.

Unless it's a version of the legendary "missile gap" between the US and the USSR that the US had to close.

tens of millions of people stand to see their lives ruined because the bureaucrats at the ECB don't understand introductory economics -- Dean Baker

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 03:12:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well with government finances being the way they are, it's getting dangerously close to lots of big boys toys being cut.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 04:58:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Iranians, no idea.  

But when the Chinese debuted their new anti-ship ballastic missiles, the chief of the US pacific fleet has a minor breakdown.

That said, I'm not sure that Iran has any domestic capacity to produce these things, and I don't think that they would be able to buy them from China.  

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 03:31:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sorry I missed this, but indeed Iran produces its own anti-ship ballistic missile. It has a range of 300 km, carries a warhead of 650 kg and cruises at Mach 3. Pretty impressive, it is called Persian Gulf.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]protonmail[dot]ch) on Fri Feb 17th, 2012 at 03:27:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can NATO project its air prowess as it did in the Balkans, Iraq or Libya?
It wasn't totally easy in the Balkans either. All the aircraft carriers were hiding on the Western side of Italy as they were scared the Serbs migh have gotten their hands on RBS-15.


Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 11:46:08 AM EST
Iran effectively possesses relevant numbers of modern day jet fighters

I wouldn't worry in the least about this. Iran mainly has crappy planes, lack of spare parts and for their more advanced foreighn fighters and very likely bad pilots. NATO pilots require 180 hours per year to qualify for combat operations. That doesn't come cheap.

Most importantly however, Iran lacks an integrated air defence system. They do as far as I know neither have AEW nor any tactical data links, not until the Iran-140 AEW comes out in force. On top of that they will be flying into a veritable wall of electronic warfare. They'll be flying blind, and they will die.

I'd worry far more about mines, antiship missiles, fast attack craft and terrorist attacks.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 12:03:38 PM EST
Have to agree here.
AEW totally changes the value of an airforce. We saw this in Iraq twice.
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Feb 17th, 2012 at 07:46:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Unfortunately, there is a very high likelihood of any conflict being caused by a shooting mishap between scared and trigger happy, heavily armed opposing forces testing each others boundaries, as they do every day.  In such a scenario, the playbook calls for protecting naval assets, and that requires air and special forces actions against ballistic and other missile sites, all of which are targeted and tracked from space.  The US maintains air bases completely surrounding Iran, including in Afghanistan and Iraq, so the Iranians are at a disadvantage geographically, and they know this, but that does not prevent accidents or jumpiness, charged by national chauvinism, from causing tragedies of this kind with so many armed vessels and aircraft encountering each other.
by santiago on Thu Feb 16th, 2012 at 06:32:04 PM EST
If I were Oman, I'd have built a canal by now.
by rifek on Tue Feb 21st, 2012 at 04:31:51 PM EST

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]