April 16, 2018

Iran: A Likely Response to New Threats

Vadym Volokhov

The military-political situation around Syria remains rather complicated and, in fact, unpredictable. The Western coalition, led by the United States, has already hit the first strike, while negotiations and consultations are continuing in parallel, but, apparently, there are no results yet.

As far as we know, there are two options of the development of the situation. The first, when the West calls on V. Putin to take B. Assad away from Syria, although, according to some media, he and his family are already in Iran. Such a way out from the situation completely suits Ankara, and R. Erdogan has already negotiated with V. Putin. According to preliminary data, all Russian mercenaries, instructors and technical staff have been evacuated to Iran, aircrafts have been relocated to Khmeimim base, and Russian ships have left the base in Tartus.

The second option, when the West demands from Tehran to withdraw all its forces (approximately 120 thousand members of Shiite armed formations!) from Syria. This issue cannot be resolved by launching missile strikes, and the Western coalition will hardly conduct a ground operation. Under these circumstances, the threat of blocking the Strait of Hormuz by the armed forces of Iran has increased significantly.

DIA Director Lieutenant-General Robert Ashley
DIA Director
Lieutenant-General Robert Ashley

March 6, 2018, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency of the US Department of Defense, Lieutenant-General Robert Ashley, at the US Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, spoke on threats to national security of the United States. In particular, he outlined the range of problems facing the United States recently. First of all, these are new challenges from North Korea, China, Russia and Iran. In light of his assessment, Washington is seriously concerned about the deployment in Iran of the modern air defense missile systems SA-20C, obtained from Russia last year. According to R. Ashley, the deployment of this systems gave the Islamic Republic “a generational improvement in capabilities of its air defense”.

Back in 2008, when became known Russia's intention to sell Iran newest SA-20 systems, General Michael Mosley who served as the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, told reporters that Iran's capability to defend itself against air strikes will take a “quantum leap”. In 2010, Army General David Petraeus, who at that time was Commander of United States Central Command, said that the weapons that Iran wanted to possess would be an excellent anti-defense of capabilities aimed to prevent the USA, European and Gulf countries forces' entering the Strait of Hormuz in the situation of a sharp crisis.

Note:

Deployment of the S-300 air defense system in IranThe S-300 (according to NATO codification — SA-10 Grumble, SA-12 Giant/Gladiator, SA-20 Gargoyle) — is a mid-range anti-aircraft missile system. Serial production of the system under the index S-300PT began already in 1975. In 1978, the tests of the system were completed, and in 1979, the first regiment of S-300 became weapon on alert.

The S-300 is a series of anti-aircraft missile systems capable of striking various targets at altitudes: from less than the possible altitude of a flight of air targets — to larger than the upper limit of altitude of air targets, in dualities from several kilometers — up to 150–300 km, depending on the type of S-300 system being used, and in particular on interceptor missiles.

The important feature of all S-300 complexes is the ability to work in various combinations within a single modification, between modifications (limited), as well as through various mobile command posts to assemble batteries of any composition, number, modifications, placements, including the use of other air defense systems in a single battery for all.

Having deployed this air defense system, Iran got a high-level, long-range strategic surface-to-air missile, and in this regard, the United States, faced the burning issue of protecting the Strait of Hormuz from Tehran's threats to close it in order to protect its national interests in the Gulf. By the way, the deployment of the SA-20 system highlights the value of Israel's acquisition of a modern Lockheed Martin F-35 aircrafts.

Note:

The Strait of HormuzThe Strait of Hormuz is a narrow, strategically important strait connecting the Gulf of Oman in the southeast with the Persian Gulf in the southwest. The northern coast belongs to Iran, while the southern one is under the control of the Emirates and the Musandam — the enclave of Oman.

  • length — 195 km
  • width — 55–95 km
  • average depth — 27.5 m
  • speed of currents — 1–3 km/h, tides — up to 3.5 m
  • rate of tidal stream — up to 8 km/h
  • the main ports are Bandar Abbas (Iran) and al-Khasab (Oman)

The Strait is divided into two transport lanes with a width of about 2.5 km each separated by a five-kilometer buffer zone. Currently, the Strait is the only maritime route that allows exporting Arabian gas and oil to third countries, including the United States.

According to the Lloyd's maritime statistics, the Strait's share in the world's oil exports by sea is 40 %. Averagely, about 15 tankers carrying 16.5–17 million barrels of crude oil pass through the Strait daily.

Apart from its significant geographical importance, the Strait of Hormuz is also interesting because Iran controls the movement of sea-going vessels (with the using of its Navy ships), while respecting the norms of international law and taking into account own national interests. It is important to understand that all sea-going vessels, including those belonging to the US Navy, must pass through Iran's territorial waters.

Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, Commander of the Iranian Navy
Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari,
Commander of the Iranian Navy

December 28, 2011, Vice President of Iran Mohammad Reza Rahimi, in response to the USA's statement on economic sanctions, said that his country was ready to respond to any pressure by blocking the traffic of tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, Commander of the Iranian Navy, assured the Supreme Leader and the President of the IRI that blocking the Strait of Hormuz was “easier than drinking a glass of water”. July 20, 2012, the Mejlis of Iran supported the bill on the closure of the Strait of Hormuz.

 

Today, Iran has the largest arsenal of ballistic missiles in the region, consisting of close and medium-range systems that can hit targets at distances of up to 2,000 km. The Aerospace Industries Organization is responsible for the development and production of missile weapons in the Islamic Republic of Iran. It includes companies producing anti-tank weapons, air defense equipment, missile armament for the Navy, tactical and operational tactical missiles, space systems, telemetry and radar equipment.

In September 2010, the IRGC was armed with the first missiles of the new generation: “Fateh-110” of “surface-to-surface” class. The missiles are equipped with a solid-fuel engine and can hit targets at a distance of up to 195 km.

There are mobile artillery and rocket batteries, anti-ship missile systems on the coast. There are many missile boats at Naval bases. Iran is able to widely use UAVs, sea mines, combat swimmers and midget submarines. It is also known that the IRGC Navy have suicide bombers teams that are ready to intercept the warships of the Coalition on small boats with explosives.

For example, the 4th Air Defense Zone of the IRI Armed Forces, with the operational center in Bandar Abbas, covers the airspace of the southern and southeastern parts of the country, controls the waters of the Persian and Omani Gulfs, the Strait of Hormuz, Kish and Qeshm Islands, the countries of the region — Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, the southwest of Afghanistan and the western regions of Pakistan. As part of the zone, there are 5 air defense groups operating in the cities of Bandar Abbas, Jask, Chabahar, Jenah and Kish Island.

 

Iran's coastal defense is also worth noticing — the main combat units of the Navy’s coastal defense are missile brigades, armed with missiles HY-2/4 Silkworm.

In January 2004, Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani announced for the first time the start of serial production and the transfer to the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran of new missile weapons — anti-ship cruise missiles “Raad”, “Kowsar” and “Noor”.

The “coast-to-sea”, “ship-to-ship” “Raad missiles are based on both, ships and islands and coast of the Persian Gulf, which greatly enhances the combat capabilities of the Iranian Navy. The radius of the missile is 150 km, it is equipped with a self-guiding warhead and a liquid-fuel engine.

Note:

According to different estimates, the IRI has up to 300–350 launchers of tactical, operational tactical and anti-ship missiles, and up to 200 anti-aircraft cruise missile launchers.

The “Kowsar” and “Kowsar-1” missiles have a TV guidance and target tracking systems. Launchers can be installed on high-speed boats and ships, on patrol and combat helicopters, on coastal fortifications.

The “Kowsar” missile specifications:

  • maximum range — 15 km
  • total weight — 150 kg
  • warhead payload — 29–30 kg
  • maximum speed — 0.8–0.85 Mach

The opening of the technological line for the production of the “Noor” anti-ship cruise missiles was first announced in September 2002. The prototype of this missile system is the Chinese YJ-82 system, known as the C-802.

The “Noor” missile specifications:

  • maximum range — 120 km
  • minimum range — 10 km
  • warhead payload — 165 kg
  • weight of the rocket — 714 kg
  • length of the rocket — 6.31 m
  • diameter — 0,36 m
  • engine type — liquid-fuel
  • guidance system — inertial, active radar

The 3-container mobile launcher is mounted on a Mercedes-Benz 1234. In January 2004, was announced the start of serial production of the DM-3B control radars for “Noor” missile system.

“Raad” missile system “Kowsar” missile system “Noor” missile system
“Raad” missile system “Kowsar” missile system “Noor” missile system

The batteries of anti-ship missiles “Noor”, “Raad” and “Kowsar”, located around the Bandar Khomeini seaport (located in the Shatt al-Arab's delta), completely block the approaches to this port from the Persian Gulf. Missile batteries also cover the area of the main Naval Base of the Army and IRGC — Bandar Abbas, the area of the seaport of Bandar Lengeh and the island of Greater Tunb (from the western part of the island of Qeshm). Of course, the approaches to oil terminals, floating drilling rigs are completely blocked. Missile batteries cover virtually the whole coast of the continental part of Iran, all transport communications in the Persian Gulf area, completely control the movement through the Strait of Hormuz and access to the Indian Ocean.

In addition, it is worth remembering that the Iranian missile forces are armed only with mobile launchers, which greatly increases their survivability. Along the entire coast of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, there are positional areas of missile technical bases with warehouses, stocks of lubricating and fuel materials and rocket fuel.

 

When planning combat operations, the Command of Western coalition has also to take into account that the narrowness of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz actually “locks” the aircraft carrier groups and support ships, preventing them from maneuvering.

Thus, the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its Navy are able to lock the Strait of Hormuz, and in case of a start of hostilities by the Western coalition, it would be very difficult to prevent this.

Russia will hardly launch hostilities against the United States and Western European countries. Turkey, as a NATO member state, will be on the side of the Coalition. Israel may limit itself to aviation strikes on a number of Iranian bases in Syria.

It can be assumed that the Russia-Turkey-Iran alliance has fallen apart and Tehran again is face-to-face with the United States and Coalition forces led by them.