Satellite photos recently revealed that the Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) is once more building catamaran (twin hull) type combat ships. As of March 2021, three different IRGC controlled shipyards were building at least one of these 76 meter (214 feet) long catamarans. These three shipyards normally build armed speedboats and other small craft favored by the IRGC naval force. The three new catamarans have been named the Shahid (martyr) Soleimani class.
This was not the first catamaran-type warship revealed by Iran. In late 2016 Iran announced, with great fanfare and lots of pictures, the newest Iranian warship, the Shahid Nazeri. What was displayed was a 55 meter (180 feet) long catamaran with a small helicopter pad which was shown holding a light (under two ton) civilian helicopter. There were no visible weapons on the helicopter or the ship. The Iranians said 800-ton Shahid Nazeri had a top speed of 50 kilometers an hour and could carry about a hundred passengers and crew. This was clearly a civilian design painted and presented as an unarmed warship. Only one was built and although it carried sufficient fuel to travel up to 10,000 kilometers, never travelled far from Iran. The IRGC talked of making this vessel the flagship of their navy.
This type of warship in nothing new. In 2014 Taiwan introduced the Tuo Chiang class corvette. These 60.4-meter catamarans displaced 560 tons and have a top speed of 80 kilometers an hour. The crew of 41 operates several weapons systems, including 16 anti-ship missiles, a 76mm cannon, a 20mm anti-missile autocannon, six torpedo tubes and four 12.7mm machine-guns. The Hsiung-feng 3 is described in Taiwan as a “carrier killer” to be used against the new Chinese aircraft carriers. Catamaran-type warships are more stable in rough weather, making it easier to operate the helicopter.
Meanwhile Iran has been seeing a lot of U.S. Navy Spearhead class EPFs (high speed catamaran transports) in the Persian Gulf. Until 2015 EPFs were known as JHSV (Joint High Speed Vessel) type ships. The U.S. Navy currently has twelve Spearhead EPF and wants to buy three more. The Spearhead class catamarans that displace 1,500 tons and can carry 545 tons of cargo or vehicles in a 1,900 square meter (20,000 square foot) cargo bay. Cargo gets on and off via a ramp that can handle up to 100 tons at a time. That means tanks can be loaded and transported. In addition, 312 passengers (troops or civilians) can be carried on another deck in airline type seats. These passengers can be carried for four days. There are also berths for 104 passengers, who can be carried for up to 14 days. Top speed is 80 kilometers an hour and range of up to 2,200 kilometers on internal fuel. The minimum crew size is 26 but up to 45 are needed for some types of missions. There is a helicopter pad that can handle heavy (up to 30 ton) helicopters. There is also storage space for a smaller (12 ton UH-60 class) helicopter.
The U.S. Navy received its first Spearhead in 2013 and the rest arrived by 2017. One advantage of these ships is that they are based on successful and heavily used commercial designs, thus the price per ship actually went down. Each EPF cost about $180 million. This commercial success is what led the U.S. Navy to being using leased commercial versions in 2001 for use in the Pacific. The U.S. Army also tested the design and after 2003 these tests extended to the Persian Gulf.
American allies in the Persian Gulf noted this and this led the UAE (United Arab Emirates) to lease one of the U.S. Navy HSV 2s. It arrived in July 2015, just in time to quickly move troops and vehicles from the UAE to Yemen to help the local government deal with an Iran-backed rebellion by Shia tribes. HSV 2 continued carrying supplies and passengers off Yemen until October 2016 when, as it was approaching the Yemeni Red Sea port of Mocha, it was hit by an Iranian anti-ship missile. The damage was severe, mainly because of fire but the HSV 2 did not sink and was towed to a port for further examination.
The HSV 2 had, until 2013, been leased by the U.S. Navy to develop new sea transport concepts for the EPF class transports. Noting this, UAE neighbor Oman UAE ordered two similar HSSV transports. These are optimized for the calmer waters of the Persian Gulf and the shorter distances over which the Omani Navy operates it. The U.S. Navy required EPFs for the Western Pacific. Oman has a long coastline (over 2,000 kilometers) and most Omanis live near the coast. HSSV is an effective way to get troops, relief supplies or whatever around. HSSV is a 72 meter (234 feet) long ship that can carry 320 tons of cargo and up to 250 passengers. Top speed is 63 kilometers an hour and the vessel is operated by a crew of 69. Oman had already been using two (65 meter) civilian versions of this vessel as commercial ferries and the navy was impressed with their performance.