Iran reportedly deployed 20 naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz, operating in cooperation with regional countries. They claim that the naval buildup is part of an effort to modernize the force, but Iranian naval commander Rear Admiral Abbas Mohtaj said that his "navy is ready to defend national interests in all circumstances". Despite the obvious intent to warn Allied forces gathering in the region, this message is the usual Iranian party line any time there is naval activity in the Persian Gulf or Caspian Sea. Mohtaj also claimed that an unidentified foreign submarine was expelled from Iranian waters.
However, the Iranian Navy bears close watching. That same day, the Iranian Ministry of Defense launched their first 1,000-ton landing craft at Bandar Abbas on 8 January. The $1.5 million 375 ton "cargo" vessel, designed by 50 Iranian engineers and experts, can travel at 12 knots and uses about 17,000 gallons of fuel a day. The "Nezami Ganjavi" is 150 feet long, 34 feet wide and 11 feet high (with a draught of 18 feet). The shipyard has the capacity to build 30 landing craft annually and has received orders for 15 "Nezami Ganjavi"-style ships.
In 1995, the Iranian Navy had four landing ships (logistics) and five landing ships (tanks), as well as 18 utility landing craft (which may be down to 13 now). Iran also has ten SRN6 and BH7hovercraft in the Persian Gulf that they consider naval air assets, although they are old and used sparingly.
Why does Iran need an amphibious capability? In mid-April 2002, the Iranian army and Revolutionary Guards conducted a large-scale five-day Persian Gulf military exercise called "Wadat" ("Unity"). About 50,000 soldiers (airborne, marine, naval commando and amphibious armored units) are gathered at the port of Bandar Abbas to rehearse seizing the strategic Straits of Hormuz and imposing a mock blockade on Gulf oil shipping, as well as amphibious landings on the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb in the mouth of Straits of Hormuz.
Despite making great strides in indigenous production capability, both the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps and regular Iranian navy are in a state of "overall obsolescence," lacking modern ships and weapons. At the beginning of 2003, the Iranians announced that they had developed a 200-kilometer range naval cruise missile (Nour), a missile frigate (Sina-1) scheduled to be launched in March, and a destroyer (Mowj) to be launched in an unspecified later time. Whether these surface combatant assets would be available for action in the near future is highly debatable.
The fact remains that the standing Iranian government feels itself increasingly encircled by hostile (Iraq), unreliable (Pakistan, Russia) or downright pro-American (Azerbaijan, Turkey, Afghanistan) neighbors. - Adam Geibel