USS Eisenhower and a Ticonderoga Class Cruiser
The tension in the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz continues to build with every passing week. With the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran and its oil industry, tensions over Iran’s Nuclear program and threats by Iran to close the Straits it is important to know what naval forces are in the area to counter any Iranian action.
Iranian Alvand Class Frigate
The Iranian propaganda machine continues to promote the idea that its Navy is a major threat, not only in the region but around the world. However despite a number of high publicly deployments to the Mediterranean it is small coastal defense force. It has the capability to disrupt traffic in the Straits of Hormuz and is supported by land based Surface to Surface Missile batteries. However should a real shooting war break out it would be destroyed in short order, although it could inflict some damage on allied shipping if it was able to mount a surprise attack against an isolated ship.
The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy
Iranian Kilo Class Sub
3 Kilo Class Attack Submarines (Built in Mid 1990s in Russia)
Ghadar Class Submarine
19 Ghadar Class Coastal Submarines (120-150 ton built in Iran)
4 Yugo Class Coastal Submarines (90 ton built in North Korea)
3 Alvand Class (Vosper Type 5) Frigates (All are 40 years old and lightly armed)
1 Jamaran Class (Modified Iranian Built Vosper Mark V)
2 Bayador Class Patrol Frigates (US PF 103 Class) built in 1964
10 Houdong Type Missile Attack Boats (Operated By Revolutionary Guards Corps)
14 Kaman/Sina Class Missile Attack Boats
5 Coastal Patrol Boats
Numerous inshore patrol craft and auxiliary ships many capable of laying mines. The patrol craft could be used in “swarm” attacks against larger surface targets which Allied navies practice to defend against. The larger Iranian ships are armed with C802 Surface to Surface Missiles.
US and Allied Navies in the Region are Commanded by Combined Task Force 150.
Arab and Gulf State Navies
Omani Khareef Class Corevette
Oman (Royal Navy of Oman) Oman has 5 very modern Corvettes. 2 Qahir Class which are British built Vosper Mark 9 and three new ships of the BAE Systems Khareef Class are entering service. These ships displace 2660 tons and are more modern, stealthy and heavily armed than most ships their size in the Gulf. The Omanis also have 8 modern patrol ships or craft and several amphibious ships and a number of smaller craft and auxiliaries.
Saudi Arabian Frigate Al Riyadh
Saudi Arabia (Royal Saudi Navy) The Saudis boast a modern Navy built around three French Built Al Riyadh Class (La Fayette Class) Frigates, 4 Al Madina Class Frigates and 4 US Built Badr Class Corvettes, 9 Patrol Boats and 3 British Built Sandown Class Mine Hunters and numerous support vessels.
UAE The UAE Navy is small with only 2 small Swedish Built Corvettes and 14 Fast Attack or Patrol Craft, 2 Mine Hunters and numerous small patrol craft and amphibious craft.
Bahrain Bahrain has a former U.S. Navy Oliver Hazard Perry Class Guided Missile Frigate the Al Sabha and a number of patrol and fast attack craft.
Kuwait 10 Guided Missile Fast Attack Craft
US Allies in Gulf (current)
HMS Daring and HMAS Stuart
Britain: HMS Daring Type 45 DDG
Canada: Frigate HMCS Regina which is relieving the HMCS Charlottetown
France: Frigate La Motte Picquet
South Korean Destroyer Wang Geon
South Korea: Destroyer Wang Geon
Australia: Guide Missile Frigate HMAS Stuart
The United States Navy
2 Carrier Strike Groups (USS Eisenhower and USS Enterprise) with supporting Guided Missile Cruisers, Guided Missile Destroyers and Attack Submarines. The Navy now has 8 Mine Countermeasure Ships in the region and deployed the USS Ponce as a Floating Base for Special Operations Forces and Mine hunting helicopters. An Amphibious Ready Group with an Embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is also usually deployed in the region.
Note that Allied ship movements and deployments change frequently and other nations not listed here frequently contribute ships to this mission. Other US and Allied ships are deployed near the Horn of Africa. It is believed that the Israel Navy maintains a Dolphin Class submarine capable of launching nuclear cruise missiles within range of Iran.
Carrier based and land based US and Saudi Aircraft vastly outnumber and outclass the Iranian Air Force.
I do not believe that the Iranians are foolish enough to actually try to close the Strait of Hormuz, but would attempt to make enough threats to force oil prices up and get nations to attempt to skirt the trade and oil sanctions levied against it. That being said there is no accounting for an unforeseen or accidental incident or series of incidents that escalate the situation into a war. The Revolutionary Guards naval forces are particularly aggressive. There is also the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities that could trigger a regional war and naval battle over the Strait of Hormuz. If war comes it will probably be because a miscalculation that spins out of control.
Tanker Burning and Sinking during 1988 Tanker War
Should a war begin for whatever reason it would still be disastrous. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed or wounded and countries in the region devastated. Iranian Allies in the region especially the Iranian proxy Hezbollah could cause major problems. I don’t believe that Syria is in any shape to assist Iran due to its ongoing civil war but instability in it could give Hezbollah additional room to maneuver in Lebanon and against Israel.
Iranian Frigate Sahand Burning and Sinking following US Attack in 1988
If war was to break out it would be costly and the Iranians would cause damage to the world economy by attacking the oil infrastructure of its neighbors and attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz. However when all is said and done the Navy of the Islamic Republic and its air forces would be devastated in relatively short order. That does not mean that such a war would be contained or limited. It could become a regional war where Iran launches missile strikes against Israel as well as the U.S. and its Gulf Allies. Terrorist and commando raids could also be part of any Iranian response to an Israeli strike or as part of any offensive operations that they decide to undertake. The fragile world economy could take a big hit with unknown political, social and economic effects.
In spite of how bad it would be I am of the opinion that someone will miscalculate and that war will ensue. Exactly how it will happen I am not sure. But it will not take much to ignite the powder keg that is the Middle East.