Iran Plans to Deploy Warships Off the US Coast – Show Or Real Threat?


The commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) repeated an announcement last week, that Iran will send warships into the Atlantic, this time adding that the ships could be stationed just outside U.S. territorial waters.

Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari first announced plans for the deployment of a fleet detachment into the Atlantic in mid-July (see our article from 19 July). Then the admiral was quoted by Fars news agency as saying that, pending final approvement by the Supreme Leader, the fleet will sail in September.

In his latest interview with the state-run news agency IRNA the admiral, however, added that, “Just like the global hegemony that is present near our marine borders, we [..] also plan to establish a strong presence near the US marine borders.” He continued, that the Iranian naval presence in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea is an honour to the Iranian nation and all other muslim countries.

In a reaction to the Iranian announcement, President Barack Obama’s spokesman Jay Carney said, “We don’t take these statements seriously, given that they do not reflect at all Iran’s naval capabilities.”

A State Department spokesperson also dismissed the plan and added that Iran should rather deal with challenges closer to its shores such as, “reducing the potential for naval incidents in the [Persian] Gulf and playing a constructive role in freedom of navigation and maritime issues at home and helping to counteract piracy in the Gulf of Aden.”

The U.S. officials have good reasons to shrug off the ‘threat’ of an Iranian naval presence near the U.S. Atlantic coast, since the Iranian navy is strictly a ‘brown-water’ one. A brown-water navy’s task is to defend the shores of the country and its coastal water, not to project power on the high seas.

The IRNI and especially the naval forces of the Revolutionary Guards corps in the last decades concentrated on acquiring the military hardware and developing the tactics to be able to block the Strait of Hormuz and to defend Iran’s coastal waters.

But the IRNI is most certainly not capable of any naval operations outside its territorial waters and the Gulf of Oman. The reasons for that are manifold. The most important one is that there are simply not enough surface warships to keep up a permanent presence anywhere on the high seas. Moreover, Iran’s navy neither has any air support nor is it able to defend itself against a submarine threat, once a fleet is outside the reach of land-based aircraft.

Since strong rhetoric and classifying a corvette as a ‘destroyer’ will not win a battle, for the next 20 years or so the Eastern Seaboard will be safe from any threat by an Iranian fleet. For a thorough analysis of Iranian naval capabilities refer to ‘Iran’s Naval Forces’ by the Federation of Scientists. (click link to go to PDF-document)

Satellite image of the Iranian naval bas Bandar Abbas, on the northern shore of the Strait of Hormuz. The image clearly shows two larger warships (UK-built Vosper Mk.5 or its Iranian copy), several auxiliaries (one in dry dock), two submarines (lower right corner), as well as several smaller naval vessels.

(Sources: Naval Today, ASD News, Middle East & Balkans News; 29 Sept 2011)

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About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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