Surface Forces: Iranian Ambitions Crippled By Reality

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March 24, 2015: In November 2012 Iran announced it was building the new Moudge class of corvettes. At the time all that was shown was pictures of the completed hull and superstructure. The ship has yet to be fitted out with weapons, electronics, or most other equipment. That was supposed to take place over the next year or two. But the Iranians couldn’t wait to announce what a great ship this would be. These announcements are seen as useful to cheer the population up. However, as of early 2015, the (called Sahand) ship is still in dry dock, awaiting outfitting.

The Sahand, despite Iranian reports of being an improvement over the earlier Jamaran class frigates, though still unfinished, seems to be just another ship of Jarmaran class. Two of these have been launched, the original Jarmaran in 2010, and second ship of the class, Damavand, in 2013. Both entered service roughly two years after launch. The Jamaran class is the largest locally built surface warship in Iran and it was based on the British built Alvand class frigate (also known as Vosper Thornycroft Mk 5). One of the Jarmarans was assigned to the Caspian Sea, the other to the Indian Ocean. The Jarmarans were described as “destroyers” when first announced (as under construction) in 2010. In fact, it's a 1,400 ton corvette. The ships have a crew of 140 and are equipped with anti-aircraft artillery in form of one reverse engineered Bofors 40mm clone and two Oerlikon 20mm cannons, two (fouron first ship of the class) Fajr anti air missiles (Iranian clone of the SM-1), anti-submarine weapons (six 324mm light torpedoes), and anti-ship missiles (four C-802s), in addition to a 76mm Fajr-27 double purpose cannon, which is an Iranian copy of the common OTO Melara 76mm cannon. In 2014 the ships were modified with a phased array radars, replacing terribly obsolete parabolic antenna radars, boosting their still modest air defense capabilities. The ships also have a small helicopter pad.

The Iranian navy could certainly use some new warships. Currently, the only major surface warships it has except for the Jarmaran and Damavand are three elderly British built Alvand class frigates (1,540 tons each) and two U.S. built Bayandor class patrol frigates (1,100 tons each). The 560 ton Government Yacht Hamzeh was also refit as a warship by installing a 20mm autocannon, two machineguns, and four C-802 anti-ship missilse on it, probably used mostly for training purposes  There are about fifty smaller patrol craft, ten of them armed with Chinese anti-ship missiles. There are another few dozen mine warfare, amphibious, and support ships. The three most powerful ships in the fleet are three Russian Kilo class subs. There are about fifty mini-subs, most of them built in Iran.

There are some serious quality problems with Iranian built warships. Iran's naval shipbuilding facility at the Bushehr shipyard has lots of labor problems. There have been strikes and lockouts as well as complaints of poor designs and sloppy management. Iran has, for the last two decades, announced many new, locally made, weapons that turned out to be more spin than substance.

Iran does have commercial shipbuilding firms that produce merchant ships that are larger than destroyers. Thus it was believed that Iran could build something that looks like a destroyer. The Jamaran class ships have Chinese C-802 anti-ship missiles, but a lot of the other necessary military electronics are harder to get and install in a seagoing ship. Iran has coped by using commercial equipment. This does not make for a formidable warship but does enable high seas operations.

Iran is trying to expand its growing (slowly) naval power on all its coasts (Caspian Sea, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean). Thus since 2011 Iran has had one or more of its few surface warships working with the international anti-piracy patrol off Somalia. This was the first time since the 1970s that the Iranian Navy has conducted sustained operations outside its coastal waters. Despite their own Islamic radical government, the Iranian sailors have got along with the other members of the patrol, including the United States (which is officially the "Great Satan" back home). Encouraged by this, Iran announced that it would send more of its warships off to distant areas, mainly to show the world that Iran was a naval power capable of such reach.

In the last decade Iran has been building some larger warships. Not really large but big enough to take trips across the Indian Ocean. In 2012, for example, the Iranian Navy sent its first domestically built frigate of Moudge class, the Jamaran, to sea. In 2013 it did the same with the Damavand, the second Jamaran. But both these vessels are hastily built by yards with no experience in building major surface warships. That means a lot of mistakes will be made. Moreover, the Iranians cannot get modern weapons and are equipping these ships with whatever they can scrounge up. Iran plans to build a total of seven vessels of Moudge class. Between the labor and supply problems it is slow going.

 


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