Home » Foreign Forces » ONI Report: Iran Developing Sub Launched Missiles to Combat Ships in Strait of Hormuz

ONI Report: Iran Developing Sub Launched Missiles to Combat Ships in Strait of Hormuz

An Iranian built mockup of a US Nimitz-class carrier is destroyed during the IRGCN Noble Prophet exercise. ONI Photo

Iran is developing a submarine that could launch an anti-ship cruise missile designed to quickly sink an American warship operating in the Strait of Hormuz, according to a new assessment of Iranian naval capabilities published Wednesday by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence.

Citing Iranian press reports, the new ONI study – Iranian Naval Forces: A Tale of Two Navies – said development of Tehran’s new Besat-class of diesel-electric attack submarine will include an anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) capability.

“In terms of armament, the Besat will likely have six torpedo tubes, capable of employing torpedoes and mines, as well as submarine-launched ASCMs,” reads the report.

While ONI did not identify a specific missile system for the Besat, the report’s conclusion said the capability would likely emerge in the Iranian fleet “over the next five years.”

Beyond a scattering of press reports, little is known about the 1,300-ton Besat program – part of Iran’s domestic shipbuilding effort for the regular Iranian Navy.

Iranian naval forces are split between the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) that is responsible for blue water operations and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) that is charged with coastal defense of Iran and most operations in the Persian Gulf.

ONI Graphic

Both operate in the Strait of Hormuz and both count the U.S. Navy as their primary potential adversary.

The Iranian development of a submarine-launched anti-ship cruise missile would allow the IRIN a better chance of getting closer to a U.S. ship undetected than the IRCGN’s fleet of fast attack craft before firing a weapon, giving less time for the threatened ship to react to the attack.

For example, the Chinese YJ-18 sub-launched ASCM is a key worry for U.S. forces operating in the Western Pacific in the event of a full-blown war.

Naval analyst Chris Carlson told USNI News on Wednesday that the general description in the ONI report of the Besat attack boat is consistent with the early variants of the German export Type 209 family of conventional attack subs that can be modified to launch the U.S.-built UGM-64 Harpoon ASCM.

However, the considerable increase in size of this new submarine, twice that of the lone Fateh-class coastal submarine, plus incorporating a sub-launched ASCM, will present serious technological challenges for the Iranians. And while they have repeatedly expressed their desire for this capability, Carlson noted the Iranians are notorious for overstating their abilities.

“When the Iranian’s say they’re ‘building,’ take it with a grain of salt,” he said.

An Iranian Fateh submarine. ONI Photo

For example, the Iranians have spent years developing the much smaller and less complex 600-ton Fateh class submarines for costal defense.

More than three years after the submarine launched, “the IRIN has yet to declare the Fateh submarine operational,” read the ONI report.

Iran also fields three Russian-built Kilo-class submarines it received from Moscow in the 1990s but elected to modernize them domestically. Indications are that the IRIN did not include a cruise missile capability.

In addition to development of submarine-launched cruise missiles, the report indicated Iran was working to create an overlapping network of land-based anti-ship cruise missiles to put at risk ships operating in the Persian Gulf.

“The tight water space in the Strait of Hormuz, as well as vast miles of coastline, both provide optimal ring positions for coastal defense cruise missiles,” read the report.
“Iran has invested heavily in procurement, research, and production of multiple anti-ship missile systems over the past several years.”

Iran has developed a family of missiles – based on the Chinese C-802 ASCM (which was in turn based on the French Exocet ASCM) – that have ranges of up to 186 miles and cover the entire width of the Persian Gulf.

ONI Graphic

Iran is also working to acquire the supersonic SS-N-26 Yakhont coastal defense cruise missile capable of ranges of more than 300 miles.

The missile development fits into Iran’s evolving strategy to take on a foreign force operating in the region, the report said.

“IRGCN commanders claim that in the event of a conflict, they will move swiftly to attack and destroy enemy warships present in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. They believe that sinking several enemy warships in the early stages of a conflict would break the political will of an adversary to continue with a military campaign against Iran,” the report said.
“The doctrine manifests itself as hit-and-run style, surprise attacks, or the amassing of large numbers of unsophisticated weapons to overwhelm the enemies’ defenses. The amassing of naval forces is often described as a swarm of small boats.”

A U.S. Ticonderoga-class cruiser attacked in an Iranian fast attack craft simulator. ONI Photo

In 2015 – as part of its highly publicized Noble Profit exercise – the IRGCN destroyed a facsimile of a U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier as part of a less-than-subtle strategic message.

“Today, more than 100 of our vessels are conducting patrols daily in the Persian Gulf to the extent that the Americans see us wherever they look,” IRGCN commander Rear Adm. Ali Fadavi said in the Iranian press.
“We shouldn’t play nice with the Americans. If we were to do that, there would be no end in sight; we would be going from “A to Z.”

  • Sean

    If, hypothetically, this was able to actually strike its target, Iranian leadership wouldn’t have a country months later.

    • Ctrot

      Months? You mean minutes? Moments?

  • joetundra

    Any attack on Iran would not just mean war in the Persian Gulf, but war on US soil. The Saudis on 9/11 and the domestic terrorists in Oklahoma City, taught Iran how completely vulnerable the US is on home soil.

    A few hundred trucks filled with fertilizer and diesel, could destroy significant amounts of critical infrastructure overnight. Power stations, bridges, airports, train stations, pipelines, ports, factories…all completely unguarded and vulnerable to simple, cheap and devastating improvised weapons.

    There’s no need for billion dollar stealth bombers when a single cargo van could shut down a city.

    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

      no no no….. the Iranians in America are peace loving!

      The placards can’t be wrong.

    • Aubrey

      Yes and no…

      I agree, the initial strikes would be devastating…just as were the u-boat operations off the east coast in ’42. Once we committed to convoying, things changed. Similarly, once the US politicians (and populace) learns we are no longer protected by two giant “moats”, things will change very, very quickly.

      • Duane

        There cannot be a repetition of “Operation Drumbeat” as in 1942. The US Navy effectively had zero ASW capability in nearshore waters at the opening of WW Two. Virtually all of our ASW capability, what little there was, was dedicated to protecting the north Atlantic convoys. Admiral King refused to listen to his British counterparts who’d already been engaged in the U-boat war for more than two years, consequently, King failed to order the use of escorted convoys, he refused to order coastal blackouts, and he refused to dedicate any of our existing ASW resources to the coastal waters in the Atlantic and the Gulf.

        Consequently, the Germans enjoyed a six month period of easy slaughter of our coastal shipping.

        Within a little more than year after we forced the end of Operation Drumbeat, the Brits and Americans finally closed the mid-Atlantic Air Gap and in short order forced the complete withdrawal of Doenitz’s entire U-boat fleet from the anti-convoy ops, conceding defeat in the Battle of the Atlantic.

        Today the US has the world’s most extensive, largest, and most capable experienced ASW forces, by far. The Iranians’ subs won’t last but days or hours after the onset of hostilities. This is all chest-pounding PR by the Iranians. In the narrow, confined, and extremely shallow waters of the Persian Gulf, their subs are literally sitting ducks, just there to be killed very quickly.

    • Andre


      How will the IRGC amass such huge stockpiles of explosives and be able to deploy and detonate them if given the order to across such a massive target set?

      What happens if the plot is uncovered? What happens if Kurdish and Sunni militants in Iran are used as proxies in retaliation?

    • palinpeople

      You’re thinking of your own people and your allies. Iran has no plans to bomb anything in the usa



    • Duane

      This isn’t 9.10.2001 either.

  • Paul 2

    I say… Let Them Waste Their Money.

    Really, a Straits of Hormuz choke is of little long-term strategic value to Iran. The world petrol market is many times more diverse than the storied 1970’s.

    This may be a misdirection by Iran.. because they miss the attention Persian Gulf boarders gives them. Iran, like North Korea, craves attention on the current world stage more than future strategic impact.

    • Andre

      The problem is the presence of the 5th Fleet at Bahrain.

      The 5th Fleet on the one hand threatens Iran given that its aviation and cruise missile capabilities can ravage Iranian aviation and land targets; on the other, it is the likeliest target of an Iranian first strike.

      Were the 5th Fleet redeployed to southern Oman and Diego Garcia, Iran would have little ability to cripple it in a first strike. In addition, Iran’s entire nascent A2/AD zone in the Persian Gulf would be rendered useless.

  • Curtis Conway

    The Aegis Combat System was designed to take on exactly this kind of threat quickly and efficiently. One would think that since the mid 1980s there would have been significant improvements in that system . . . and their have been. However, everything is mega-dollar in a Moore’s Law world, and most of that is by design. One would think that we can make a hardened, lighter weight and effective Aegis Combat System using similar design criteria, newer components, and more efficient elements that provide the same (or improved) performance. THAT should be what the new US Navy Frigate is all about.

    • Ctrot

      Ditto on the new, lighter, cheaper, more efficient Aegis. One would think that since my cell phone probably has as much or more calculating ability as the first Aegis computers had that we would by now have seen at least some advancement in shrinking shipboard electronics mass, instead we keep hearing that we have to build bigger, more expensive ships to house newer, better, faster electronics.

      • Duane

        With AEGIS it’s not so much the physical size, but the cost, that makes it feasible on larger ships. And with the new networked datalinked comm system we now have, it’s not necessary for every warship to have its own AEGIS. As I remarked above, all we really need is one or a couple of land-based AEGIS systems in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Qatar and we cover the entire Gulf. Not only would that sensor and targeting data be shared with our surface ships, but also with land based AMM launchers and aircraft, both manned and drones.

    • Duane

      We don’t need to spend (waste) the money on “AEGIS-light” on our new frigates. We’re already installing land based AEGIS systems in hot spots around the world. In the very confined waters of the Persian Gulf, bordered by our allies Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and others, all it takes is one or two such ground installations to cover the entire Gulf … and feed that targeting data to the rest of the regional fleet.

      Ditto with the E-2s and especially the F-35s, as well as our pervasive eyes in the skies, our fleet of stealthy drones (both ISR and attack), operating over both friendly dirt and international waters.

      Sensing and targeting missiles is a job for a network, which is precisely what we have already.

      • Curtis Conway

        The Aegis Combat System provided the surface fleet the ability to possess an excellent situational awareness in all combat arenas at once, and have resources to address whatever threat requiring attention. The F-35 Lightning II (and its predecessor F-22) represents this same function in the air. That is the single most significant factor in this analysis. Any surface combatant must possess this same capability, for if you even begin to think that the network will provide you safety ? . . well, we can fix that in seconds, and so can our adversaries. THAT is why he who controls the EM Spectrum will win the next conflict. Any US Navy Surface Combatant, particularly our new Small Surface Combatants (read Frigates) must have this capability as well. The missions that involve the greatest vulnerability to the surface combatant fleet is an ISE mission, Showing The Flag, in a far off place in a backwater area, where ASCMs and TBMs can be employed. IF we send LCS/frigates into those waters, and conflict results, the odds are in the enemies favor that the ship will be lost, for it cannot defend itself from a determined attack by TBMs, or ASCMs, particularly supersonic ASCMs. SO . . . if you insist on your assessment, then I invite you to ride the ships into Harm’s Way, and see how it turns out. A 25 lb blast fragmentation warhead getting ONE SHOT at a supersonic ASCM coming at you at MACH+, at FIVE miles range, does not an AAW defense make. So, face reality and get with the program, or stop trying to kill our sailors so you can save money.

  • Michael D. Woods

    If they hit one it’s open war and no other country would support them in that case. All imports would be cut off. It might take some time to position US forces, but after that their Naval and air capabilities wouldn’t last a week. I also question their ability to keep their submarines undetected, whatever armament they carry.

    By the way, the contention that no one has conquered Persia-Iran is false. Both Alexander and Temuchin did it.

  • Frank

    The Iranian submarines would become fish habitat. The USN could neutralize Iranian naval assets and Israel could neutralize the Ayatollahs. Iranian Revolution Redux.

  • disqus_89uuCprLIv

    Grist for the propaganda mill! More likely Iran’s target would be the other Gulf States.

    Were the Iranian Navy or that passle of nutcases in the IRGC to attack the USN, it would mean annhilation of the Iranian Navy and its ports.

  • Duane

    Like so much of the BS that flows from the Iranians, it is clear that they don’t understand submarine operations.

    The worst place in the world to operate submarines is in the littoral, especially a tightly confined shallow littoral like the Persian Gulf (average depth 160 feet, max depth of 300 ft). Submarines depend upon stealth and having a very large and very deep op area in which to hide from ASW sensors. It is very easy to install and maintain a network of seabed-anchored sensors to find and track subs in such a confined op area, in addition to monitoring with both shipboard sonar with towed arrays, and airdropped ASW sensors. This isn’t something we’ll advertise, but I would be shocked if we didn’t already have such a network installed in and near the Persian Gulf, much as we installed a vastly larger and deeper SOSUS network in the deep oceans to track Russian nukes during the Cold War.

    If the Iranians want to waste their money and manpower on Persian Gulf subs, then by all means, we’ll enjoy killing them when the time comes.

  • Gen. Buck Turgidson

    These aholes should have been taken out 30 years ago

  • Bert Tainow

    North Korea and than Iran need to be removed off the face of this planet within the next 24 months