Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Closing Hormuz


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that if Iran is attacked, he will close the Strait of Hormuz by sinking any merchant ship, oil tanker, or military ship that tries to go through.  Forty percent of the world's oil supply currently goes through the Strait.

How exactly would Iran go about doing that, and could they actually do it?  Assigned to the job are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.  They have several weapons at their disposal.

First up is the Silkworm C-802 anti-ship cruise missile.  Originally supplied by China, the Iranians have produced their own version called the "Noor" (Divine Light).  It flies less than 20 feet above the surface of the ocean using a jet engine, and can be launched from aircraft, ships, submarines, and land batteries with a rocket motor.  Its range is at least 125 miles. An inertial guidance system is used, with a terminal seeker (unclear if they have the original radar seeker or the newer Chinese IR or visible seekers -- probably the latter), along with a radar or laser altimeter.  It is autonomous, but communicates back to an operator.   The newer versions have virtually no EM emissions, and with the low running altitude, they are quite stealthy.

Iran has supplied Hamas and Hezbollah with these missiles.  Hezbollah hit an Israeli ship with one (or perhaps with the somewhat smaller Iranian Kowsar) in 2006.  Hamas test-fired a C-802/Noor into the Med in January 2009.  Iran likely has several hundred Noor missiles by now -- if not thousands.  Single shot probability of hit is estimated at 98 percent.

Next are mines.  "Iran has non-magnetic, free-floating, and remote-controlled mines. It may have taken delivery of pressure, acoustic, and magnetic mines from Russia. Also, Iran has negotiated with China for rocket-propelled rising mines."  They have thousands of indigenously produced mines as well.  This is one of the most serious threats, since a few mine hits would quickly stop all commercial shipping.

Iran has at least nine stealthy sonar-evading Ghadir submarines that can be used for mine laying and for firing a rather incredible torpedo/missile called the "Hoot" (whale) capable of going over 230 miles per hour underwater.  Based on a Russian design, the Hoot is four times faster than US torpedoes.  In 2006, Iran demonstrated the launch of a Thaqeb (Saturn)  anti-ship missile from a submarine.  They are working on a fleet of larger submarines, and recently completed work on a new destroyer.

One of the favorite military systems of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are swarms of armed speedboats.  During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the Revolutionary Guards used packs of  such craft to attack tankers carrying Iraqi oil, sinking or damaging dozens of them between 1984 and the end of the conflict.

It was reported yesterday that Iran acquired the speed-record-breaking Bradstone Challenger in 2009, after several years of working to evade UK export controls.  The boat is powered by Caterpillar engines. It is believed that they are copying the design for a whole new fleet of speedboats -- probably armed with Hoot 230 mph torpedos.   Concerns have been raised that a swarm of Bradstone Challenger-based attack craft could sink not only oil tankers and merchant vessels, but may even be successful against US aircraft carriers due to the difficulty of defending against small non-metallic boats that ride close on the water and are armed with modern anti-ship weapons.

These are just the things I know about.  Iran may have some other surprises up their sleeves.  But I think we can say that after 30 years of Islamic control and US acquiescence, Iran has developed a capability that cannot be dismissed.

I think they can close Hormuz, and keep it closed for several months -- or even longer depending on how much the US is willing to risk to re-open it.  Unfortunately, the US seems to have no stomach for any kind of a war that may be difficult to prosecute.  What if we try to open the Strait, and we lose a nuclear aircraft carrier, a couple of cruisers, 25 merchant ships, and around 20 times as many killed as in all of the Iraqi war?  Would we have the determination to go to war with Iran the way we went to war with Germany and Japan in WWII?

I think that the rather negative playout of this scenario is why we are actively/physically blocking any attack on the Iranian sites by Israel.  Unfortunately, as time progresses, any possible middle ground solution continues to erode away.  I believe that soon the choice will devolve to be the complete destruction of Israel or a painful and costly war with Iran -- a war that we may lose.  The best, quickest and cheapest solution may be to use nuclear weapons on Iran -- because we simply don't have the conventional capability or the will to lose so many ships, aircraft and men in a conventional war.

But Obama said yesterday that we are getting rid of our nuclear weapons, and would never use them if attacked conventionally.  But significantly he did say that we might use nukes on NPT non-signatory nations -- which includes Iran.

But I don't think Obama has the grit to make any kind of a choice at all.  He will continue to procrastinate until he is forced to react to a situation that has become completely out of control.   Already Iran is too powerful.  We should have bombed the nuclear sites ten years ago.

Ahmadinejad has stated that he is planning to use this upcoming conflict to wipe Israel from the face of the earth, remove the US from any future role in the Mideast, marginalize the Saudis, and declare the new Caliphate.  He see it as the end of the Jews as a race, and the end of the US as a world economic and military power.

The more I think about it -- with the constraints and weakness of spirit we have, with the president we have -- the more I believe that he could very well be successful.

Where is Ronald Reagan when you need him?


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