Monday, September 30, 2013

Burial at Sea

I'm just not worried about Iran's mini-sub threat.

Iran boasts that they are mass producing small subs. Will they be able to cut off oil exports through the Persian Gulf with them?

In an interview with the semi-official Fars News Agency this week, Admiral Khordad Hakimi, commander of the Iranian Army’s 4th Naval Zone in the Caspian Sea, said that Iran is mass producing light submarines and has begun constructing medium submarines.

Although Iran is well known for grossly exaggerating its military advances, these statements seem on the mark.

The Islamic Republic of Iran first became interested in acquiring submarines after it had numerous surface vessels sunk by the U.S. Navy during the Tanker War in the late 1980s. Realizing the futility in taking on the USN directly, Iran embraced an asymmetric strategy. Submarines are one component of this, as are its mine-laying capabilities, anti-ship cruise missiles and fast-attack speedboats and other small craft, which it could use in swarming tactics.

I'm not aware of mini subs being used effectively anywhere. The Italians used something like that to get swimmers into position to attack British warships in Egypt during World War II, but mini subs just don't have a track record of effectively fighting.

We can destroy them in port. And as mini subs, I don't believe they even have reloads for the torpedoes (or mines, I assume) in the tubes. So the boats will have to return to ports under surveillance by our forces fairly soon.

And since the shipping lanes are pretty small, we could use active sonar to scour the lanes as we move through them. Helicopters with dipping sonar sweeping ahead would be immune to anything the subs can do.

Yes, as part of a complete threat of some aircraft, land-based anti-ship missiles, and massed small boats, they could be a threat.

Remember that the Iranians are going this way because a more traditional navy able to sail out into the Arabian Sea to do battle if necessary is seen as futile given our ability to defeat the Iranians in the Gulf in 1987-1988 (and Iran had a lot of small boats, then, remember, that we also defeated).

So if we refuse to cooperate with the new Iranian approach to sea battle and instead keep our big ships out of the Persian Gulf in the initial part of a conflict---keeping them out of range of the swarms--while letting aircraft, armed drones, and small craft hammer the enemy in port, ashore, and in the Gulf, we'll deny Iran the targets they need to make their new approach pay off.

And those subs will just be coffins for the crews.

In twenty years, Iran might be building bigger ships because the current approach doesn't work unless we cooperate in matching our tactics to their capabilities.

Oh, and just as Iran is reacting to capabilities in the Persian Gulf region, we need to worry that Iran will react to increases in oil export capacity that bypasses the Strait of Hormuz.