Emblazoned with the pennant number “1” in on its superstructure, Shahid Roudaki joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) as its latest and most visible warship during a ceremony held in Bandar Abbas on the Strait of Hormuz on Thursday.
Shahid Roudaki is 492 feet (150 meters) long and 72 feet (22m) across. This allows for an open deck that is large enough for a helicopter landing spot, together with multiple vehicles. The ship is defended by a 23mm anti-aircraft gun and multiple crew-served heavy machine guns. The IRGCN paraded an array of weapons systems on the deck for the ceremony.
- Four interceptor boats with multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS). Four of these were among 100 new boats paraded on May 28 in Bandar Abbas, according to satellite data.
- A mobile launcher for the 3rd Khordad surface-to-air missile system, which is based on the Russian BUK system. This is the same system credited with shooting down a U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk in June 2019.
- A Bell 412 helicopter
- Six Ababil-2 drones
- 2 small quadrotor drones
- Four twin Qader anti-ship missile launchers. The Qader is an Iranian version of a launcher based on the Chinese C-802 family
It seems unlikely that these systems would be arrayed like this in normal operations. The small boats may be a common feature, but the other systems appear only representative of her potential capability and role.
The loadout seen on deck show the emphasis Iran places on asymmetrical warfare. The presence of the drones indicate a growing confidence in Iranian built systems. They have received significant recent experience in Yemen and Syria via their proxies, according to press reports. Anti-ship missiles also feature prominently in Iranian forces.
Iranian media says this new ship will allow Iran to operate in “distant waters.” This may translate to the Red Sea where she might replace Saviz, or it might be further afield, possibly to the Mediterranean, where Iranian backed forces are operating in Syria. Shahid Roudaki may soon be crossing paths with Western navies.
The converted cargo ship represents a change of direction for the IRGC. Before Shahid Roudaki, the sectarian arm of the Iranian military has kept how it uses merchant ships under the radar.
One of these ships, the repurposed cargo vessel Saviz, has been operating in the Red Sea for several years. The vessel monitors shipping and is suspected of providing intelligence support to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, and may have played a hand in attacks on ships in the region, according to local press reports.
Shahid Roudaki is being described as an Intelligence and Support Ship by Iranian media. The U.S. Navy equivalent is something between a special warfare support vessel and an Expeditionary Mobile Base (ESB). She can sit off a foreign coast and act as a base for drones and small boat operations. Her radars will also improve the intelligence picture for friendly forces in the area. But, alone, she is poorly equipped to fight off another navy.
It is noteworthy that the new ship belongs to the IRGC, not the Iranian Navy. The two forces operate side-by-side and increasingly duplicate their capabilities. In general, the IRGC takes on a more adventurous role. The Navy remains comparatively more professional and is equipped with a modest fleet of warships and submarines. Shahid Roudaki, therefore, extends the reach of the IRGC, and not necessarily Iran’s conventional forces.
The IRGCN now has a ship capable of long-range missions, which would allow much more ambitious international operations and port calls. One disadvantage, however, is that the ship is not protected by the illusion of being a civilian vessel. If she is deployed off the coast of a war zone where Iran is backing one side, she may be seen as a legitimate target by the other side. And while Iran has denied assisting the Houthi movement in Yemen, despite Saviz parked offshore, this claim would be less plausible if the ship in the vicinity was Shahid Roudaki.