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Iran Submarine Import and Export Behavior

Imports

Following the Iranian revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Tehran's military establishment realized that relying on foreign defense manufacturers would be detrimental to the country's long-term national security. This led to the steady development of a domestic defense industry which included a number of locally designed and manufactured submarines. However, Iran continues to rely on some imported equipment from Russia, China, and North Korea.[1]

Iran acquired three Type 877 Kilo-class submarines from Russia during the 1990s, which were built at the Admiralty Yard in St. Petersburg.[2] The Iranian Navy experienced repeated technical problems with the Kilo-class boats largely because their batteries and cooling systems were not designed for the hot climate in the Persian Gulf. But some of these problems were later resolved with assistance from India.[3] After negotiations with Rosoboronexport (the Russian Federation's state arms export agency), refit operations began on the Tareq 901 Kilo-class boat with Russian technical assistance in 2005.[4] Allegedly, Iran also wanted to receive the Novator 3M-54 Klub-S multi role missile system that provides different missiles for anti-submarine, anti-ship, and land-attack missions.[5] However, because Iran insisted that the submarine repairs take place at Bandar Abbas rather than sending the boats to Russia, Russia refused to install the missile system or send designs for the submarine’s replacement parts.[6]  Iranian engineers instead completed the repairs indigenously and re-launched the retrofitted Tareq in 2012 after lengthy delays, an accomplishment highlighted by Iranian officials as a sign of the country’s improved domestic submarine manufacturing capability.[7]

The apparent design similarities of the Iranian domestically produced Ghadir and Nahang-class midget submarines with the North Korean Yugo and Song-class submarines have led to speculation that Iran may have received assistance from North Korea, or possibly China, in the design and production of their coastal submarines.[8] This seems likely, as North Korea has also helped train Iran's special naval forces.[9]

In 2003, Iran signed a memorandum of understanding for defense cooperation with India, including joint naval exercises and the sale by New Delhi of submarine simulators.[10] Iran also hoped to receive further assistance from India for the maintenance of its Kilo-class submarines.  However, as part of the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement, the United States pressured India to reduce military cooperation with Iran.[11]

Exports

Iran is an importer of submarines and does not export them.

Sources:
[1] Matt Hilburn, "Asymmetric Strategy: Growing Iranian Navy relies on 'unbalanced warfare' tactics," Sea Power, December 2006, Vol. 49, No. 12, pp. 14-17
[2] "Submarine Forces, Iran,", Jane's Underwater Warfare Systems, July 2 ,2009. www.janes.com
[3] "Submarine Forces, Iran,", Jane's Underwater Warfare Systems, July 2 ,2009. www.janes.com
[4] Iran's Naval Forces: From Guerilla Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy, (Office of Naval Intelligence, Fall 2009), p. 18.
[5] Iran's Naval Forces: From Guerilla Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy, (Office of Naval Intelligence, Fall 2009), p. 18; "Submarine Forces, Iran," Jane's Underwater Warfare Systems, 5 September 2011.
[6] “Iran: Submarine Fixed without Russian Help,” Defensenews, 29 May 2012, www.defensenews.com; "Submarine Forces, Iran," Jane's Underwater Warfare Systems, 5 September 2011.
[7] Jeremy Binnie, “Iran Relaunches ‘Kilo’ Submarine,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 6 June 2012, www.lexisnexis.com; “Tareq Submarine Sign of Iran’s Power – Navy Commander,” BBC Monitoring Trans Caucasus Unit, 31 May 2012, www.lexisnexis.com; “Iran Plans to Build Nuclear-Fueled Submarines,” Fars News Agency, 12 June 2012, http://english.farsnews.com.
[8] Philip G. Laquinta, The Emergence of Iranian Sea Power, (Naval War College, February 1998), 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), pp. 21, 23; Fariborz Haghshenass, Iran's Asymmetric Naval Warfare, (Policy Focus #87, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 2008,) p. 23.
[9] 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 35.
[10] " Iran, India Hold Military Discussions...," IPR Strategic Business Information Database, 6 February 2003, www.lexisnexis.com.
[11] Efraim Inbar and Alvite Singh Ningthoujam, “Indo-Israeli Defense Cooperation in the Twenty-First Century,” Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA), Vol. 15, No. 4, December 2011, www.gloria-center.org; Harsh V. Pant, “India’s Relations with Iran: Much Ado about Nothing,” The Washington Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 1, Winter 2011.

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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.

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