Jump to search Jump to main navigation Jump to main content Jump to footer navigation

Iran Submarine Capabilities


One of Iran's Russian-built Kilo-class submarines, www.dodmedia.osd.mil

Iran's submarine force currently consists of three Russian Kilo-class (4,000 ton) diesel-electric submarines (Tareq 901, Noor 902, Yunes 903), one 350-400-ton Nahang and an expanding force of roughly a dozen 150-ton Ghadir-class (Qadir/Khadir) midget submarines.[1] The Iranian Navy plays a crucial strategic role in Iran's national security architecture due to Tehran's dependence on the Persian Gulf for trade and security. However, its naval forces also operate in the Gulf of Oman, the Caspian Sea and, possibly, the Indian Ocean.[2]

The Persian Gulf separates the Iranian landmass from the Arabian Peninsula and is connected to the Gulf of Oman through the Strait of Hormuz, one of the most strategically located waterways in the world.[3] The Strait is about 120 miles long, 60 miles wide at the eastern, and 24 miles wide at the western end, with a complex system of narrow shipping lanes (about 2 miles) separated into outbound and inbound traffic. A considerable proportion of the world's oil exports pass through this narrow waterway and its critical role is amplified by the limited capacity of alternative energy routes. Currently, two main overland routes connect Saudi Arabia to the Red Sea: the East-West Pipeline (Petroline) and the Abqaiq-Yanbu natural gas pipeline.[4]

The Iranian naval forces are divided into two branches: the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN, commanded by Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN, commanded by Rear Admiral Morteza Safari).[5] IRIN developed out of the Shah's Imperial Iranian Navy which existed prior to the Islamic revolution of 1979. The IRGCN emerged after the revolution (during the Iran-Iraq war) and was officially established in 1985. [6] Since 2007 Tehran has been attempting to improve integration of its two naval branches, leading to a clear division in operational territory. The IRGCN is now fully in charge of the Persian Gulf, while the IRIN focuses its operations on the Gulf of Oman and the Caspian Sea. [7] The IRIN controls the Kilo-class boats and both branches operate the various midget submarines.

During the 1984-88 Tanker War the IRCGN proved a capable force in disrupting Iraq's proxy oil exports using unconventional naval guerrilla tactics (amphibious offensives, speedboat hit-and-run attacks and frogmen commando raids on enemy port installations) after conventional methods like air- and ship launched missiles and naval gunfire had proved futile. [8] These asymmetric naval operations during the Iran-Iraq war form the basis for Iran's current maritime doctrine. The sinking of two Iranian surface vessels, a Vosper-class corvette and a Combattante-class guided missile patrol craft, by the U.S. Navy during Operation Praying Mantis in 1988 further convinced Tehran that in a classical naval engagement Iran would quickly be overwhelmed. Consequently, the Iranian leadership prioritized the foreign acquisition and indigenous development of submarines as a suitable means of supporting its new asymmetric doctrine. [9] The Kilo-class and midget submarines create a balance between littoral defensive operations and offensive operations further from the Persian Gulf. In a potential conflict, Iran is likely to use its submarines to lay mines and fire torpedoes at enemy forces. They would also be used for reconnaissance missions and covert Special Forces insertion. In a 2007 discussion broadcast on Iranian television, Rear Admiral Sajjad Kuchaki, former Commander of IRIN, delineated the importance of the submarine force in Tehran's military strategy, describing it as part of a strategy of "all-out defense," and emphasizing the value of submarines as force multipliers against superior enemy surface forces. [10] Kuchaki also stressed Iran's improving indigenous capabilities, claiming that more than 90 percent of the expertise needed for submarine construction is "home-grown." [11]

The three Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines (called Tareq-class in Iran) were commissioned from 1992 to 1996. Iran reportedly paid USD600 million for each boat, and they are all based at Bandar Abbas in the Straits of Hormuz (Tehran is reportedly developing naval facilities at Chah Bahar in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Oman in order to relocate its submarines there from the shallow waters of Bandar Abbas). [12] Two of the Kilo-class submarines are operational at any one time and they are occasionally deployed in the eastern mouth of the Straits, the Gulf of Oman or the Arabian Sea. [13] Their utility in the Persian Gulf is, however, somewhat limited as Kilo-class boats require a depth of at least 164 feet and can therefore only access about one third of the Gulf. [14] Unique water conditions in the Gulf  such as water salinity and strong currents), further limit the boats' operational use unless the submarines are deployed to deeper waters in the Gulf of Oman or the Arabian Sea. [15]

In 2007 Iran began a wave of deployments of small Ghadir-class and Nahang-class midget submarines for use in shallow coastal waters. Reports on the number of operating Ghadir-class submarines range from 10 to 19. [16] The Ghadir-class is also referred to as a sub-class of the Yono-class, suggesting that the submarines may be based on North Korean technology, although the level of North Korean involvement is unknown. [17] Iran also reportedly operates one Nahang-class submarine, which became operational in 2007. [18] Iran claims that both the Ghadir and Nahang-class midget submarines were built indigenously.

The midget submarines are operated by both the IRIN an IRCGN. Their operational capabilities include firing torpedoes (both the Ghadir and the Nahang class have two 533mm tubes), laying mines for anti-shipping operations, as well as insertion of special forces into enemy territory.[19] Iran is also experimenting with wet submersibles, the Sabehat-15 GPS-equipped two-seat submersible swimmer delivery vehicle (SDV) - designed by the Esfahan Underwater Research Center- has undergone testing with both the IRIN and the IRCGN. Due to their limited endurance and payload, SDVs are primarily used for mining, reconnaissance and special operations. They are also restricted to operating in coastal waters.[20]

Iran is also developing indigenous diesel-electric submarines meant to fill the gap between the heavier Kilo-class and the lighter Ghadir-class submarines, although open-source information is limited on the number and types of submarines being developed. In September 2008 IRGCN
Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari claimed that Iran would soon be adding a new semi-heavy domestically built vessel to its naval forces, and a production line for the 1,000 ton Qaa’em-class (Qaem, Ghaaem) submarine was inaugurated on 25 August 2008. [21] However, in a 2012 interview, an Iranian Commander did not mention the Qaa'em, instead listing the medium-sized (600 tons) Fateh as under construction, and the semi-heavy (1,000-1,200 tons) Besat as under development to supplement the existing Kilo- and Ghadir-class boats. [22] It is unclear whether the Qaa'em-class project continues, was cancelled, or was transformed into the Besat project; nonetheless, it appears that Iran's intention is to add at least one class of roughly 500 ton submarines (Fateh-class) and one class of roughly 1,200 ton submarines (Besat-class) to its fleet. [23]

In June 2012, an Iranian official asserted that scientists were "at the initial phases of manufacturing atomic submarines." [24] He claimed Iran's success in retrofitting one of the imported Kilo-class submarines (after Russia had declined to do so), as evidence of the country's advancing submarine development capability, despite delays. [25] However, outside analysts stressed that manufacturing a nuclear reactor for use in submarines would be beyond Iran's current capabilities, suggesting that the announcement may be meant as leverage in negotiations with the P5+1, or as justification for ongoing enriched uranium. [26]

None of Iran's current submarine classes are capable of firing ballistic or cruise missiles. Since the 1990s, however, Iran has acquired or domestically produced a large number of mines and torpedoes that can be employed on most of its subsurface boats.[27] In 2005 it reportedly launched two local production lines of 533mm and 324mm wake-homing torpedoes with ranges of up to 20km.[28] Speculation surrounds Iran's claims that it has developed a supercavitating high-speed torpedo called 'Hoot' with speeds of 100m/s (223m/h or 360km/h), which is allegedly based on the Russian VA-111 Shkval.[29] Iran might have sourced the technology from China, which imported 40 Shkval torpedoes in 1998 from Kazakhstan and was successful in reverse-engineering them. The Shkval is a shallow-water, rocket-propelled, super-cavitating torpedo with a range between 7 to 11 kilometers.[30] Iran's arsenal of sea mines is estimated to number around 2,000, and includes the domestically produced Sadaf-01/02 bottom-moored contact mine, as well as the Chinese MC52 sea-rising mine.[31] The deal with the Russian Federation is believed to have included a large number of Russian MDM-UDM series mines that can be laid from 533mm tubes with a 1,100 kg charge that detonates in response to acoustic, magnetic, or pressure influences within a 50-60 meter radius.[32]

Sources:
[1] The International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2012 (London: Routledge, 2012), p. 325; Iran's Naval Forces: From Guerilla Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy, (Office of Naval Intelligence, Fall 2009), p. 15; "Submarine Forces, Iran," Janes Underwater Warfare Systems, 5 September 2011; Anthony Cordesman and Adam Seitz, Gulf Threats, Risks and Vulnerabilities: Terrorism and Asymmetric Warfare, (Center for Strategic and International Studies, (Working Draft) August 26 2009), p. 19; "Iran Builds Submarine Force in Persian Gulf Face-Off," UPI.com, 20 April 2012, www.upi.com
[2] "Submarine Forces, Iran," Janes Underwater Warfare Systems, July 2, 2009. www.janes.com
[3] Abdulaziz H. Abuzinada, Hans-Jorg Barth, et al. (eds.), Protecting the Gulf 's Marine Ecosystems from Pollution (Basel, Switzerland: Birkhauser Basel, 2008); and W. Abdel-Monim Mubarak and A. I. Kubryakov, "Hydrological Structure of Waters of the Persian Gulf According to the Data of Observations in 1992," Physical Oceanography 11, no. 5 (September 2001), pp. 459-471.
[4] Anthony H. Cordesman and Martin Kleiber, Iran's Military Forces and Warfighting Capabilities: The Threat in the Northern Gulf, Praeger Security International, 2007, p. 23 and Energy Information Administration, Persian Gulf Region, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy, 2007, www.eia.doe.gov.
[5] "Iran's Naval Forces: From Guerilla Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy," (Office of Naval Intelligence, Fall 2009), p. 12.
[6] Fariborz Haghshenass, Iran's Asymmetric Naval Warfare, (Policy Focus #87, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 2008), p. 17.
[7] "Iran's Naval Forces: From Guerilla Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy," (Office of Naval Intelligence, Fall 2009), p. 16.
[8] "Iran's Naval Forces: From Guerilla Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy," (Office of Naval Intelligence, Fall 2009), p. 7; Fariborz Haghshenass, Iran's Asymmetric Naval Warfare, (Policy Focus #87, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 2008), p. 5; Jahangir Arasli, Obsolete Weapons, Unconventional Tactics, and Martyrdom Zeal: How Iran would apply its Asymmetric Naval Warfare Doctrine in a Future Conflict, (George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Occasional Paper No. 10, April 2007), p. 31.
[9] Anthony Cordesman and Adam Seitz, Gulf Threats, Risks and Vulnerabilities: Terrorism and Asymmetric Warfare, (Center for Strategic and International Studies, (Working Draft) August 26 2009), p. 20.
[10] "Iranian navy to test upgraded missiles-Commander," BBC Monitoring Middle East, April 20, 2007; in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, web.lexis-nexis.com.
[11] "Iranian navy to test upgraded missiles-Commander," BBC Monitoring Middle East, April 20, 2007; in Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe, web.lexis-nexis.com.
[12] Cordesman and Kleiber, Iran's Military Forces and Warfighting Capabilities: The threat in the Northern Gulf, p. 115; “Iran,” Jane’s World Navies, IHS Inc. 2013. United States Naval Postgraduate School Dudley Knox Library. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
[13] Fariborz Haghshenass, Iran's Asymmetric Naval Warfare, (Policy Focus #87, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 2008), p. 13.
[14] Philip G. Laquinta, "The Emergence of Iranian Sea Power," Naval War College, 13 February 1998, p. 6.
[15] Caitlin Talmadge, "Closing Time: Assessing the Iranian Threat to the Strait of Hormuz," International Security, Vol 33, No1. (Summer 2008) p. 90.
[16] Jeremy Binnie, "Iranian Sub Fleet Continues to Expand," Jane's Defence Weekly, 22 February 2012, www.lexisnexis.com; "Iran Launches Two New Light Submarines," BBC Monitoring Middle East – Political, 9 February 2012, www.lexisnexis.com; "Iran Builds Submarine Force in Persian Gulf Face-off," UPI.com, 20 April 2012, www.upi.com; International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2012 (London: Routledge, 2012), p. 325; "New Submarines Could Assist Iran in Blocking Strait," Global Security Newswire, 12 July 2012, www.nti.org.
[17] Jahangir Arasli, Obsolete Weapons, Unconventional Tactics, and Martyrdom Zeal: How Iran would apply its Asymmetric Naval Warfare Doctrine in a Future Conflict, (George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Occasional Paper No. 10, April 2007), p. 23; "Over 200 North Koreans Sent to Iran to Assist Nuclear Development – Japan Report," BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific – Political, 16 May 2011, www.lexisnexis.com; Yoshihiro Makino, "North Korea Supplied Submarines to Iran," The Asahi Shimbun, 11 June 2010, www.asahi.com.
[18] Iran's Naval Forces: From Guerilla Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy, (Office of Naval Intelligence, Fall 2009), p. 18; "Iran's Locally-Built Submarine Becomes Operational," BBC Monitoring Middle East – Political, 7 March 2007, www.lexisnexis.com.
[19] Jahangir Arasli, Obsolete Weapons, Unconventional Tactics, and Martyrdom Zeal: How Iran would apply its Asymmetric Naval Warfare Doctrine in a Future Conflict, (George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Occasional Paper No. 10, April 2007), p. 22;
[21] Lauren Gelfand, "Iran Launches New Submarine Production Line," Jane's Defence Weekly, 3 September 2008, www.lexisnexis.com; Fariborz Haghshenass, Iran's Asymmetric Naval Warfare, (Policy Focus #87, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 2008), p. 14.
[22] "Iran Submarines Undetectable for Enemy Vessels – Top Commander," BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit, 19 January 2012, www.lexisnexis.com; "Website Compares Features of Iran's Fateh with Kilo Class Submarine," BBC Monitoring Middle East, 6 December 2011, www.lexisnexis.com; "Iran to Unveil New Submarine," FARS News Agency, 5 October 2011, http://english.farsnews.com.
[23] "Navy designing new medium, heavy class submarines," Tehran Times – Political Desk, 21 September 2011, http://tehrantimes.com, retrieved 10 July 2013.
[24] "Iran Plans to Build Nuclear-Fueled Submarines," Fars News Agency, 12 June 2012, http://english.farsnews.com; "Iran to Make Engine Systems for Nuclear Submarines," BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit, 12 June 2012, www.lexisnexis.com.
[25] "Iran Plans to Build Nuclear-Fueled Submarines," Fars News Agency, 12 June 2012, http://english.farsnews.com; Jeremy Binnie, "Iran Relaunches 'Kilo' Submarine," Jane's Defence Weekly, 6 June 2012, www.lexisnexis.com.
[26] "Iran Nuclear Sub Plan Could Spike Outside Worries on Enrichment," Global Security Newswire, 13 June 2012, www.nti.org; Fredrik Dahl, "Iran Submarine Plan May Fuel Western Nuclear Worries," Reuters, 5 July 2012, www.reuters.com.
[27] Jahangir Arasli, Obsolete Weapons, Unconventional Tactics, and Martyrdom Zeal: How Iran would apply its Asymmetric Naval Warfare Doctrine in a Future Conflict, (George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Occasional Paper No. 10, April 2007).
[28] "Iran's Naval Forces: From Guerilla Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy," (Office of Naval Intelligence, Fall 2009), p. 17; "Submarine Forces, Iran," Janes Underwater Warfare Systems, 5 September 2011, www.janes.com; Fariborz Haghshenass, Iran's Asymmetric Naval Warfare, (Policy Focus #87, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 2008), p. 14.
[29] Fariborz Haghshenass, Iran's Asymmetric Naval Warfare, (Policy Focus #87, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 2008), p. 14.
[30] "Analysis: Transfer of Torpedo Technology Linked to Official agencies," FBIS Document FEA20071108401906 and "Iran, China Developing High-Speed Torpedo," Kanwa Defense Review online edition, June 1, 2006; in "Kanwa: Iran, China Developing High-Speed Torpedo," FBIS Document CPP20060525515036
[31] Jahangir Arasli, Obsolete Weapons, Unconventional Tactics, and Martyrdom Zeal: How Iran would apply its Asymmetric Naval Warfare Doctrine in a Future Conflict, (George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Occasional Paper No. 10, April 2007), p. 32; Caitlin Talmadge, "Closing Time: Assessing the Iranian Threat to the Strait of Hormuz," International Security, Vol 33, No1. (Summer 2008), pp. 90-93, Philip G. Laquinta, "The Emergence of Iranian Sea Power," Naval War College, 13 February 1998, pp. 7-8.
[32] Caitlin Talmadge, "Closing Time: Assessing the Iranian Threat to the Strait of Hormuz," International Security, Vol 33, No1. (Summer 2008), p. 92.

CNS logo

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

About

The submarine proliferation resource collection is designed to highlight global trends in the sale and acquisition of diesel- and nuclear-powered submarines. It is structured on a country-by-country basis, with each country profile consisting of information on capabilities, imports and exports.

Understanding
the Nuclear Threat

Reducing the risk of nuclear use by terrorists and nation-states requires a broad set of complementary strategies targeted at reducing state reliance on nuclear weapons, stemming the demand for nuclear weapons and denying organizations or states access to the essential nuclear materials, technologies and know-how.

In Depth

Country Profile

Flag of Iran

Iran

This article provides an overview of Iran's historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.

Learn More →