Surface Forces: Iran's Search for New Big Ships


January 15, 2006: The Iranian navy has several major warships, and is looking for some new ones. Most of the current large ships are found a class of five frigates obtained over three decades ago. Three of these frigates are British-designed Vosper Mk 5s, known as the Saam class. These frigates displace 1,250 tons, and are equipped with a 114mm gun, a twin 35mm gun, three single 20mm guns, two 50-caliber machine guns, two 81mm mortars, a Limbo ASW mortar, two triple 12.75-inch torpedo tubes, and four C-802 anti-ship missiles. The class originally consisted of four frigates, but one of these frigates, the Sahand, was sunk by American forces during Operation Preying Mantis in 1988. A second frigate, the Sabalan, was heavily damaged, but returned to service. The Sabalan reportedly operates under some speed restrictions.

Some new ships have been acquired from Russia. Two frigates are from the Bayandor-class. These 900-ton ships are equipped with two 76mm guns, a twin 40mm gun, two 20mm guns, and two 50-caliber machine guns. Two other sisters were reportedly sunk during the Iran-Iraq war.

These frigates are old in warship terms. The Saam-class vessels are pushing 35 years old. The Bayandor-class vessels are over forty years old. They are way past due for replacement. Iran has already begun acquiring some modern systems from Russia in the form of Kilo-class submarines. Iran has three of these vessels, which displace 3,076 tons submerged, and are equipped with six 21-inch torpedo tubes.

Iran is also looking into new frigates and destroyers. Iran reportedly is trying to design and build a class of destroyer, and reportedly has a class of light frigate in production. Iran also was looking into purchasing Russian frigates from the Steregushchiy-class. These modern frigates displace 1,850 tons, and are equipped with the SS-N-27 anti-ship missile (carrying twelve missiles in a vertical-launch system), three eight-round SA-N-9 missile launchers, a 100mm gun, two 30mm Gatling guns, four 15.75-inch torpedo tubes, and two four-round SA-N-8 launchers.

The Iranian navy has been suffering from years of neglect. Its major units are mostly old, and replacing them will be expensive. The Russian frigates would cost $150 million each. Iran has sought to add a large number of coastal-defense cruise missiles (a mixture of HY-4 Silkworm, C-801, and C-802 missiles). Neglect of a navy can take a while to show signs, but once the signs have shown, making things good will be expensive - a lesson the mullahs are learning the hard way. - Harold C. Hutchison (


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