Playing on Iran’s Home Court: The Great Strait of Hormuz Test

By Russ Winter

February 09, 2012 "
WSE" --  Any good armchair general with a good search engine and time on his hands can figure out in a hurry that the song and dance about Iran being unable to close the Strait if Hormuz for long is just a plain crock. Worse than that. Yet, this big Orwellian lie persists, so I want to set the record straight. Iran has the capability of not only closing the Strait for some time, but creating a world of hurt for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.
 

Iran possesses a build-up of anti-ship weapons called Sunburn missiles, which it has procured from Russia and China over the last decade. These are top-notch weapons developed by the Russians as a low-cost challenge to the expensive, tech-heavy weaponry of the U.S., and specifically the aircraft carrier task force. A conflict, which I now assign a high probability to [see Scenario for an Israel Attack on Iran], is going to be a huge test of a global-naval doctrine that Russia and China will watch with tremendous interest. Iran's mix of anti-ship missiles (Sunburns, Onyxs, home produced, etc) is an unknown, but I think they are armed to the teeth. The big question: How many of these weapons does Iran have? I would suggest thousands, and that this is the real show.

Given that U.S. crony logic seems to be about squandering money on weapons in the military-industrial complex, I fear for sailors and marines on the 5th Fleet. Don’t get me wrong, the US Navy is professional, but the Strait doesn’t allow for the normal defense in depth available in open seas, in fact it offers the Iranians a cross fire setup or triangulation (see map of Strait below) . If you read discussions on various military sites, there is a lively debate on American ship defense system like the Aegis. However, almost nobody claims this to be fully protective against ship strikes. And an oil tanker, no way.  It is important that the US is working on new generation lasar defense to counter these missiles, however they are still in development. This puts added pressure for Iran to have this fight now, not later. The following is from ”Russian Military Equality Network. (I have cleaned up the English a bit.]

U.S. Navy Pacific Commander Admiral Timothy Keating said that due to lack of sufficient funds for the procurement of simulated target missile defense system, the U.S. Navy can not now afford to fight “the club” category of supersonic anti-ship missiles. It is reported that the U.S. military that is used to simulate the “club” missile target missile is still being developed, and is expected to be put into use in 2014.

The Sunburn is perhaps the most lethal anti-ship missile in the world, designed to fly as low as 9 feet above ground/water at more than 1,500 miles per hour (mach 2+).  The missile uses a violent pop-up maneuver for its terminal approach to throw off Phalanx and other U.S. anti-missile defense systems. Given their low cost, they’re perfectly suited for close quarter naval conflict in the bathtub-like Persian Gulf.

The Sunburn is versatile, and can be fired from practically any platform, including just a flat bed truck. It has a 90-mile range, which is all that is necessary in the small Persian Gulf and 40-mile-wide Strait of Hormuz. Fired from shore a missile could hit a ship in the Strait in less than a minute. It presents a real threat to the U.S. Navy. Tests using the Aegean and RAM ship defense technology stops the Sunburn 95% of the time, but such testing was done in open seas, not a bathtub. The payload hit with a 750-pound conventional warhead  can be witnessed at 1:53-1:57 in this video. Not enough to sink a carrier, but it could take down smaller capital ships and crew.

You don’t have to be Hannibal preparing for the Battle of Cannae to see that the Strait is a potential shooting gallery. Without a doubt, Iran has plotted and mapped every firing angle and location along the Gulf, their home-court coastline. This is going to put enormous interdiction pressure on U.S. warplanes to spot and destroy platforms, which may be as simple as a flat-bed truck. In reality, Iran has dug in from Jask in the east to Bandar in the west and can easily cover any ship, commercial or military, traversing the narrow Strait.

Equally disturbing is Iran’s missile range for the entire Persian Gulf. Bahrain itself could be hit by the longer-range version of the Sunburn, the Onyx. Is the U.S. (which has three aircraft carrier groups in play currently) going to stick around or clear out to the Oman Sea, leaving control of the oil lanes to Iran? Or will they stay and slug it out with the Iranians? If so, at what cost? Iran’s home court strategic advantage and weaponry may mean nasty losses for the 5th Fleet. If they leave, the Iranians would use naval mines to close the strait and missiles to hamper the mine clearing operations.

This is a classic fog of war situation, and has game changer potential.

 

 

For additional analysis on this topic and related trades, subscribers go to Russ Winter’s Actionable.

 

 

 

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