Iran seeks to increase naval power as it prioritizes asymmetric warfare

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

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

Experts say the build-up of naval forces in Iran poses a growing threat to its neighboring countries.

The Alvand, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s newest naval vessel, was floated on December 19.

“Iran has recently attempted to modernize its navy, which is primarily designed for the defense of [the] Persian Gulf against foreign navies, ”Sina Azodi, a non-resident Atlantic Council member and visiting scholar at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, told Defense News. The Iranian navy has always been its smallest force.

Azodi, who specializes in Iran’s military and nuclear program, noted that the navy had not undergone modernization for decades. Today, the country is launching local programs to modernize its existing fleet of surface vessels.

Iran operates three Soviet-built Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines measuring 74 meters in length. Its submarine arsenal also includes two Fateh-class diesel-electric coastal submarines, 48 ​​meters long and commissioned in early 2019, as well as 23 Ghadir-class mini-submarines based on North Korean-class technology. Yono.

One country, two navies

Unconventionally, Iran has two naval forces: its regular naval forces and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps navy. However, they have different missions and fields of action.

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

He said that while the IRGC focuses on hit-and-run tactics and asymmetric operations using fast boats, the traditional navy consists of frigates, submarines and corvettes.

“They share the same mission of defending the Iranian continent in the Persian Gulf,” he added.

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

“The Revolutionary Guard Navy is tasked with combat missions in the Persian Gulf region in particular, while the regular navy operates primarily in the Arabian Sea and the Arabian Gulf and is trying to expand to the Red Sea, ”al-Kenany said.

He differentiated between conventional naval forces affiliated with the military, which included the “old” frigates and corvettes obtained in the 1970s from the United States, United Kingdom and France, and between highly efficient naval resources. Revolutionary Guards which are based on asymmetric warfare and include speedboats, missile boats, ships equipped with torpedoes and remotely operated ships.

“The effectiveness of the IRGC navy in the Persian Gulf is very high due to the doctrine and strategy it employs” including anti-access / area denial tactics and proliferation of mines in the strait of Ormuz and the waters of the gulf in general, said Kenany.

He noted that due to the gun sanctions against Iran, the navy is relying on old systems and local projects developed on the basis of technologies purchased from Western countries.

The United States has imposed restrictions on activities with Iran under various legal authorities since 1979, following the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran.

There is no mention of a naval modernization budget in the budget bill submitted by President Ebrahim Raisi to parliament on December 12.

“I haven’t seen the numbers either,” Azodi told Defense News. ” What I know [is] the IRGC has benefited from a significant budget increase. I think it is expected that since they cannot expand neither the Navy nor the Air Force, it is better to give the most part to the missile program, which is the backbone of defense strategy.

Azodi noted that Iran relies on government-owned shipyards and there are no private yards in the country.

Threats in the Gulf

From a bomber hitting the Saudi frigate Al-Madinah in 2017 to a fatal drone strike on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea in August, there have been several incidents in the region.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards recently received 110 locally manufactured combat boats “equipped with missiles and rockets and are capable of operating effectively under the IRGC’s indigenous radar network,” according to IRGC commander-in-chief, Major General Hossein Salami, as IRIB News reported in December 2021..

Azodi said the country’s emphasis on asymmetric warfare capabilities is due to the fact that “Iran has been largely out of the arms market, and countries under pressure from the United States are reluctant to sell major weapon systems ”.

He said Iran viewed this approach as “quite effective against the navies.”

Elsewhere in the region, Azodi added, Gulf Cooperation Council navies have invested heavily in larger surface ships, including frigates from the United States and France. Al-Kenany said that was in part because the Iranian navy posed a major threat in the Persian Gulf.

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

“The resources of the Gulf navies must be equipped,” he added. “They need thermal systems and thermal electro-optics to be able to detect [adversaries] at great distances and radars that can monitor them from long distances.

Agnès Helou is the Middle East correspondent for Defense News. His interests include missile defense, cybersecurity, interoperability of weapons systems, and strategic issues in the Middle East and Gulf region.

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