Iran Fast Attack Craft. Fars News Agency Photo
The 2013 Surface Navy Association’s Naval Heritage program topic was Operation Praying Mantis. The program featured first hand accounts of events that transpired in the Persian Gulf during the spring of 1988. Those naval operations culminated with an operation called Praying Mantis — the punitive attack against the Iranian navy on 18 April. The focus was on the dramatic tactical events that occured, and included a detailed description of the sinking of the Iranian Kaman-class corvette Joshan. Retired Navy Vice Adm. Anthony Less said at the forum that in 2006 Iran commissioned a new missile patrol boat named after the former Joshan. If the Iranians dare to disrupt shipping in the Persian Gulf again, “we’ll put this one on the bottom of the Persian Gulf with her namesake,” Less said.
The Yuri Dolgoruky, Russia’s newest ballistic-missile submarine, officially entered service in the Northern Fleet on 17 January, completing a long and arduous journey into Russia’s navy. While the submarine is often lumped in with Russia’s aggressive new armaments program, construction actually started back in 1996, when Vladimir Putin was not the Kremlin’s overlord but an obscure bureaucrat serving as deputy chief of the Presidential Property Management Department, and Russia was not an oil-fueled “energy superpower” but a bankrupt economic disaster. A great deal has happened to Russia’s navy since construction of the Dolgoruky began, very little of it good. So while the submarine’s newness has been highly touted—by, among others, a Russian government intent on promoting “modernization”—when viewed in context it’s not nearly so impressive.
Yury Dolgoruky nuclear-powered submarine a during the ceremony in the Sevmash shipyards, Severodvinsk, Jan. 10. RIA Novosti Photo
Naval History Magazine, January 2013
The shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, turned out boats at a torrid pace, setting the gold standard for submarine construction during World War II.
On 27 January 1944, the Portsmouth Navy Yard achieved two things no shipyard had ever done—launching three submarines simultaneously and a fourth on the same day. The Ronquil , Redfish , and Razorback lifted off their blocks in Dry Dock #1 at 1300, and a few hours later the Scabbardfish , slid down Building Way #4 into the Piscataqua River. 1 Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox sent a congratulatory message to the yard: “In the launching of four submarines in a single day, the Portsmouth Navy Yard sets another record in the submarine program.” 2 Before 1945 arrived the yard would complete a record-setting 32 submarines. No U.S. shipyard before or since has built so many submarines in a single year. 3
Pressure-hull sections in a submarine basin at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in March 1943. The shipyard had developed and refined sectional construction in the years leading up to World War II, and when war came the yard was poised to capitalize on a sudden surge in demand and the need for mass-production methods, University of New Hampshire Library.
After averaging the completion of less than two submarines a year in the 1930s, the Portsmouth Navy Yard built 79 submarines between 1 July 1940 and 1 July 1945. 4 The average construction time for those boats was much shorter than those of the same class built at other yards. Shipyard employment also reached unprecedented heights during that time. After providing jobs for an average of about 2,000 people annually in the 1930s, in November 1943 employment peaked at 23,465.5
To examine the yard’s wartime success it is necessary to first review events in the interwar years that set the stage for the remarkable wartime production record.
Cid Standifer is a freelance reporter, web designer and translator based in Arlington, Va. She has written for Military Times, Inside Washington Publishers and the Roswell Daily Record.
Proceedings, November 2012
An unconventional spin on the Marine tradition of forcible amphibious entry could counter modern A2/AD threats—at little expense and with minimal training.
The year is 2020. A country has attacked a U.S. ally and seized multiple islands. Simultaneously, it has flooded the area with guided rockets, artillery, mortars and missiles (G-RAMMs). Intelligence has identified three separate anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) and anti-air (AA) locations on one island that must be destroyed before a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group or amphibious ready group (ARG) can aid our ally. Intelligence also suggests the enemy has hidden mobile ASCM and AA capabilities. All assets are protected by a dispersed, company-size enemy force. Through commercial and proprietary satellite coverage, the aggressor can locate and target U.S. Navy ships. That country does not know, however, where U.S. submarines are.
The President convenes the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and asks what can be done.
Marines operate from the USS Hawaii U.S. Marine Corps photo
“We can execute precision-guided munition (PGM) strikes,” the chairman responds, “but that cannot guarantee the destruction of all sites, nor can the destruction of sites we hit be confirmed. Nor can we guarantee destruction of the enemy’s mobile weapons using PGMs alone.”The Chief of Naval Operations observes: “Until the ASCM and AA threat are destroyed, we can’t move our $14 billion aircraft carrier (USS Gerald R. Ford) or $4 billion amphibious assault ship (USS America) within 300 miles of that island.”
“Mr. President,” notes the commander, Special Operations Command, “we have some ability to confirm the destruction of the sites, but limited manpower prevents us from securing terrain or destroying enemy garrisons.”
On August 15, Thanh Nien newspaper reported that Vietnam would take delivery of its first Kilo-class submarine by the end of the year. Vietnam has another five Kilo submarines on order and is expected to take delivery at the rate of one submarine a year. According to Vietnam’s defense Minister, General Phung Quang Thanh, Vietnam will develop a modern submarine fleet in the next five to six years (2016-2017).
Kilo class submarine Yunes
In the late 1980s Vietnam sought to acquire its first submarine from the Soviet Union. A crew was selected and it trained on a Project 641 diesel submarine attached to the Soviet Pacific Fleet. The program was suspended by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev out of concerns about riling China. Vietnam’s hopes to acquire submarines went into abeyance with the collapse of the USSR.
In a 1997 guns-for-rice barter, Vietnam acquired two Yugo-class mini-submarines from North Korea. These were berthed at Cam Ranh Bay where they underwent repair and overhaul. For the next 13 years analysts were uncertain about their operational status. In January 2010, Tuoi Tre newspaper dramatically revealed the existence of M96, Vietnam’s secret submarine service, with a photo of a Yugo submarine and its crew. The Yugos were used for diver related operations. According to a Western defense attaché stationed in Moscow, “The mini-sub experience provides a basic foundation for understanding submarine operations and maintenance.”
Associated Press File Photo
The Pentagon and the Navy have denied it, but this month’s report that a Russian attack submarine prowled near the U.S. without being detected has turned attention back to the art and science of anti-submarine warfare.
The story, which appeared in the conservative “Washington Free Beacon,” reported that “U.S. officials” said the Akula-class sub loitered in the Caribbean for a month without being detected, and this “exposed deficiencies” in the Navy’s ASW capabilities.
The story did not contain enough detail to know what to make of that assessment – whether, for example, the Navy searched for the sub and didn’t find it, or whether it visited and left without a trace. The “Free Beacon” story said American commanders only learned of the sub’s patrol after the fact, but it did not explain how they could learn of it given that they hadn’t been able to detect it in the first place.
The incident is similar to 2009 reports in which the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) confirmed that two Akula boats patrolled off the Eastern U.S. seaboard.
Proceedings, June 2012
There is vigorous debate concerning the affordability of replacing the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs), which are set to begin retiring in 15 years. Originally projected to cost $7.7 billion per unit, concern is growing that the “SSBN(X)” future follow-on submarine would crowd out funding necessary to modernize the rest of the Fleet.
Tension levels between Iran and the U.S. are high after Iranian officials voiced threats to cut off the Strait of Hormuz with sea mines in December. As the U.S. and Israel become more vocal about limiting Iran’s ability to develop its nuclear program, Iran has threatened to disrupt the oil supply that passes through the strait. From miniature submarines, to mines and the U.S. Navy’s response what follows is an analysis of the threat Iran could potentially pose to merchant and naval vessels. ~Editor, Sam LaGrone
View Iranian Navy in a larger map
A U.S. Naval Institute overview of Iranian naval forces and capabilities and U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf. Information from the upcoming Combat Fleets of the World 16th Edition, Jane’s World Navies, the U.S. Navy and globalsecurity.org.
Icons from mapicons.nicolasmollet.com
Big surprises often come in small packages and the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) seems to be betting on this adage with its accelerated acquisition of midget submarines in recent years. Open-source reporting indicates that Iran now possesses at least 14 Yono-class mini-submarines. Iranians say these North Korean-designed boats are now being indigenously manufactured in their domestic shipyards. Called the Ghadir-class, production has accelerated since the reported launch of the first Iranian-manufactured unit in 2007 with four of these units launched in 2010 and, according to Jane’s Fighting Ships, another two were launched in the past year.
An undated photo of the Iranian Ghadir-class submarine.
The lethal threat loaded in this small package is illustrated by the March 2010 attack on the South Korean corvette Cheonan. The North Korean torpedo attack on the Cheonan broke the ship in half and killed 46 ROK sailors. Forensic evidence, provided by an international team of weapons experts, subsequently revealed that it was a North Korean manufactured CHT-02D acoustic-wake homing torpedo that was used to sink the South Korean ship. The connection to the threat from Iran’s Yono submarines is that many analysts suspect that it was a North Korean Yono mini-sub that launched the attack on the Cheonan. Each North Korean Yono mini-sub is believed to be armed with two such CHT-02D (21-inch) heavy weight torpedoes. It is likely the Iranian Yono units are likely to be armed with the same type of torpedoes.
The IRIN also has three relatively modern, Russian-built, Kilo-class submarines that were purchased in the 1990s. However, the recent emphasis on mini-subs may indicate either a shift in tactics and/or dissatisfaction with the Kilos. The cost, or size and complexity of the Kilos may have caused the IRIN and Islamic Republic of Iran Revolutionary Guard Navy force to seek a more reliable and tactically compatible alternative. The Yono mini-sub is by all observations better matched to the challenging conditions for submarine operations in the gulf than the much larger Kilos. Just as the North Koreans have found the utility of mini-subs in the shallow waters of the Yellow Sea, the Iranians seem to be following suit in the Persian Gulf.
Iran seems to be putting their money where its mouth is when it comes to procurement. By all appearances its investments are matching its naval strategy of waging a guerrilla war at sea. For instance, the procurement of the Yono class boats is paralleled by reported investments in anti-ship cruise missiles, sea mines and the modification of hundreds of fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft armed with a wide variety of antiship weapons. The ambush tactics for which the mini-sub is designed seem to fit the pattern of recent Iranian weapons procurement and their expressed interest in building a robust anti-access/area denial capability. The relatively short range and endurance of the Yono-class boats makes these units compatible with the Iranian Navy’s coastal defense mission and their presence puts teeth into Iran’s claims to being able to close the vital Strait of Hormuz. It is also noteworthy that as a less than capital asset, these platforms are potentially more expendable than a high value asset like a Kilo submarine. The proliferation of these units, like that of their mini-warship FAC/FIAC cousins, suggests that the Iranian Navy may be willing to lose a few of these units in defense of the nation.
The proliferation of these units presents a number of tactical challenges to the US Navy. As with FAC/FIAC, there is a definite tactical quality to quantity. The sheer number of small but lethal threats that have to be considered when operating in the Persian Gulf, when added up, creates an overall high threat environment. Just like FAC/FIAC, only one Yono needs to slip through a friendly force defensive perimeter and get within torpedo range to possibly achieve success. The threat to friendly vessels is further exacerbated when operating within the confines of the Persian Gulf where, in most areas, the threat axis represents a 360 spin of the compass. Further complicating the problem for blue forces is the inherent difficulty in detecting these small targets amidst the flotsam and jetsam of the cluttered Persian Gulf waters. One conclusion is certain–the development of squadrons of mini-subs and FAC/FIAC are a warning sign that asymmetric threats are on the upswing in the Persian Gulf.