Fact Sheet

Iran Submarine Capabilities

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Iran Submarine Capabilities

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The two branches of Iran’s Navy, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy, command a vast submarine force of around 34 vessels. The Iranian Navy plays a crucial strategic role in Iran's national security architecture due to the country’s dependence on the Persian Gulf for trade and security. Its naval forces also operate in the Gulf of Oman, the Caspian Sea, and the Indian Ocean. [1]

Capabilities at a Glance

Total Submarines in Fleet: 34 [2]

  • Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs): 0
  • Nuclear-Powered attack submarines (SSNs): 0
  • Diesel-electric attack submarines (SSKs): 7
  • Mini Submarines (SSMs): 27
  • Air-independent propulsion (AIP) enabled: 0

History

The Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) developed from the Shah’s Imperial Iranian Navy. The Shah’s Navy existed prior to the 1979 Revolution and was designed to demonstrate the power and prestige of the Shah’s Iran. [3] Currently, Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi commands the IRIN. [4] The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) was established in 1985 during the Iran-Iraq War. [5] Currently, Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri commands the IRGCN. [6]

From 1992, to 1996, Iran commissioned the three Kilo-class (called Tareq-class in Iran) diesel-electric submarines from Russia. Iran reportedly paid USD 600 million for each boat. The vessels are all currently based at Bandar Abbas in the Strait of Hormuz, where two of the submarines are operational at any time. These submarines are occasionally deployed in the eastern mouth of the Strait, the Gulf of Oman, and the Arabian Sea. [7] 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. [8] 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. The IRIN controls the Kilo-class boats. [9]

In 2007, Iran began deployments of small Ghadir-class and Nahang-class mini submarines for use in shallow coastal waters. Reports on the number of operating Ghadir-class submarines range from 10 to 21, but in 2017, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence estimated that Iran possessed 14 of such submarines. [10] Iran also reportedly operates one Nahang-class submarine, which became operational in 2007. [11] The operational capabilities of these vessels include firing torpedoes (both the Ghadir and the Nahang class have two 533mm tubes), laying mines for anti-shipping operations, and deploying of special forces into enemy territory. The mini submarines are operated by both the IRIN and IRGCN. [12]

Modernization and Current Capabilities

Iran is actively expanding and modernizing its submarine fleet. Originally, none of Iran’s submarines were capable of firing ballistic or cruise missiles. Starting in the 1990s, Iran launched a program to acquire or domestically produce mines and torpedoes for all its subsurface boats. [13] In 2005 it reportedly launched two local production lines of 533mm and 324mm wake-homing torpedoes with ranges of up to 20km. [14] Iran has since developed ballistic and cruise missile technology for its submarines. On 24 February 2019, Iran successfully test-fired a cruise missile from one of its Ghadir-class vessels. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) claims the Tareq and the Fateh submarines have the same capability. [15]

In June 2012, an Iranian official asserted that scientists were in "the initial phases of manufacturing atomic submarines." [16] They claimed Iran's success in retrofitting one of the imported Kilo-class submarines (after Russia had declined to do so) was evidence of the country's advancing submarine development capability despite delays. [17] In September 2017, Iran’s naval command said that the country’s nuclear agency was beginning to produce nuclear reactors for fueling and propulsion systems. [18] However, many analysts assert that manufacturing a nuclear reactor for submarine use is beyond Iran’s current capabilities and is simply a response to increased U.S. sanctions after the U.S. withdrawal from the JPCOA. [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 IRGCN. Due to their limited endurance and payload, SDVs are primarily used for mining, reconnaissance, and special operations in coastal waters. [20]

Iran is reportedly developing naval facilities at Chah Bahar in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Oman in order to relocate its submarines from the shallow waters of Bandar Abbas. [21]

Ship Biographies

Tareq-Class (Kilo-Class)

Russia built Iran’s three Tareq-class diesel-electric submarines. These submarines are 74 meters long with a 69.9-meter-wide beam and can travel up to 25 knots when submerged. Their weapons systems can fire torpedoes. These vessels can also be used to lay mines.

Besat-Class

Iran reportedly possesses one Besat-class submarine. Iran started construction of these semi-heavy, diesel-electric vessels in 2008. These submarines have a displacement weight of 1200 tons and are capable of firing torpedoes. However, as of June 2019, these submarines have yet to enter service. [22]

Fateh-Class

Iran reportedly built two Fateh-class diesel-electric coastal submarines, one of which the IRIN officially commissioned on 17 February 2019. [23] It measures 48 meters long and its estimated top speed is between 14 and 23 knots. Its weapons system is capable of firing torpedoes. It can also be used to lay mines. [24]

Nahang-Class

Iran reportedly possesses one Nahang-class mini-submarines. Iran indigenously built this diesel-electric coastal submarine. Its weapons system is capable of firing torpedoes.

Ghadir-Class

Iran reportedly possesses twenty-three Ghadir-class mini submarines. Iran indigenously built these diesel-electric propulsion submarines. Their weapons systems are capable of firing torpedoes and missiles. 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. In the end, the exact level of North Korean involvement is unknown. [25]

Yugo-Class

Iran reportedly possesses four Yugo-class mini submarines. North Korea transferred these diesel-electric propulsion submarines to Iran. Their weapons systems are capable of firing torpedoes.

Import and Export Behavior

Imports

Iran historically relied upon submarine imports from China, North Korea, and Russia. In 1973, Iran founded the Iran Shipbuilding & Offshore Industries Complex Co. (ISOICO) 37 km west of Bandar Abbas, Hormozgan. ISOICO is a major shipbuilder for the country. [26]

Exports

Iran is not an exporter of submarines.

Sources:
[1] "Submarine Forces, Iran," Janes Underwater Warfare Systems, 2 July 2009. www.janes.com; Sebastien Roblin, “Iran Is Building Its Own Submarines (with Torpedoes the U.S. Navy Can't Match),” The National Interest, 9 June 2017, www.nationalinterest.com.
[2] Zachary Keck, “Iran to Unveil New Submarine, UAVs, Fighter Jets and Missiles,” The Diplomat, 24 August 2013, www.thediplomat.com; “Iranian Naval Forces: A Tale of Two Navies,” U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, 1 March 2017, www.usni.org.
[3] "Lachin Rezaian “Leader makes new appointments in Iran's," Mehr News Agency, 5 November 2017, www.mehrnews.com.
[4] "Iran's Naval Forces: From Guerilla Warfare to a Modern Naval Strategy," (Office of Naval Intelligence, Fall 2009), p. 12.
[5] Fariborz Haghshenass, "Iran's Asymmetric Naval Warfare," (Policy Focus #87, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 2008), p. 17.
[6] "Ayatollah Khamenei appoints new Commander of IRGC Navy, Coordinator," Khamenei, 23 August 2018, www.english.khamenei.ir.
[7] Fariborz Haghshenass, "Iran's Asymmetric Naval Warfare," (Policy Focus #87, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 2008), p. 17.
[8] Philip G. Laquinta, "The Emergence of Iranian Sea Power," Naval War College, 13 February 1998, p. 6.
[9] Caitlin Talmadge, "Closing Time: Assessing the Iranian Threat to the Strait of Hormuz," International Security, Vol 33, No1. (Summer 2008) p. 90.
[10] 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; 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; “Iranian Naval Forces: A Tale of Two Navies,” U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, 1 March 2017, www.usni.org.
[11] 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.
[12] 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.
[13] 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.
[14] "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.
[15] "Iran Test-Fires Cruise Missile from Submarine in Military Drill," RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty, 24 February 2019, https://www.rferl.org.
[16] "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.
[17] "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.
[18] Callum Paton, "Tehran Plans to Build Nuclear Submarines despite U.S. Warnings," Newsweek, 23 February 2018, www.newsweek.com.
[19] Frank Von Hippel, "Mitigating the Threat of Nuclear-Weapon Proliferation via Nuclear-Submarine Programs," Journal for Peace and Nuclear Disarmament 2, no. 1 (2019): 133-50.
[20] Awad Mustafa, "Gulf Navies Seek Solutions to Iran Midget Sub Threat," Defense News, last modified 9 November 2013, http://archive.defensenews.com.
[21] 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.
[22] "Besat / Qaaem, Qaem, or Ghaaem Submarine," GlobalSecurity.org, accessed 31 July 2019.
[23] "Besat / Qaaem, Qaem, or Ghaaem Submarine," GlobalSecurity.org, accessed 31 July 2019.
[24] Sebastien Roblin, "Should the U.S. Navy Take Iranian Submarines as a Serious Threat?" The National Interest, 26 July 2019, https://nationalinterest.org.
[25] 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.
[26] "History ISOICO," ISOICO, accessed 31 July 2019, http://isoico.co/en/history-isoico/.

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Glossary

SSBN
Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear: A hull classification for a submarine capable of launching a ballistic missile. The "N", or nuclear, refers to the ship's propulsion system. SSBN's are generally reserved for strategic vessels, as most submarine launched ballistic missiles carry nuclear payloads. A non-strategic vessel carries the designation SSN, or attack submarine.
Diesel-electric submarine
Diesel-electric submarine: A submarine with a diesel-electric transmission. Diesel-electric transmissions require access to oxygen for the diesel generator to charge the submarine’s batteries or drive the motor. This type of submarine is thus louder and must surface more frequently than a nuclear-powered submarine. A diesel-electric submarine can fire conventional cruise missiles against land targets, and in theory, can also carry nuclear-tipped cruise missiles. Diesel-electric submarines are significantly cheaper to build and purchase than nuclear-powered vessels, which makes them the vessel of choice for smaller navies.
Air Independent Propulsion Technology (AIP)
Air Independent Propulsion Technology (AIP): A propulsion system that uses liquid (or compressed) oxygen or hydrogen fuel cells, thereby allowing submarines to stay submerged for longer periods without the need for external sources of oxygen. This increased endurance also increases a submarine’s survivability.
Deployment
The positioning of military forces – conventional and/or nuclear – in conjunction with military planning.
Ballistic missile
A delivery vehicle powered by a liquid or solid fueled rocket that primarily travels in a ballistic (free-fall) trajectory.  The flight of a ballistic missile includes three phases: 1) boost phase, where the rocket generates thrust to launch the missile into flight; 2) midcourse phase, where the missile coasts in an arc under the influence of gravity; and 3) terminal phase, in which the missile descends towards its target.  Ballistic missiles can be characterized by three key parameters - range, payload, and Circular Error Probable (CEP), or targeting precision.  Ballistic missiles are primarily intended for use against ground targets.
Cruise missile
An unmanned self-propelled guided vehicle that sustains flight through aerodynamic lift for most of its flight path. There are subsonic and supersonic cruise missiles currently deployed in conventional and nuclear arsenals, while conventional hypersonic cruise missiles are currently in development. These can be launched from the air, submarines, or the ground. Although they carry smaller payloads, travel at slower speeds, and cover lesser ranges than ballistic missiles, cruise missiles can be programmed to travel along customized flight paths and to evade missile defense systems.
Nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor: A vessel in which nuclear fission may be sustained and controlled in a chain nuclear reaction. The varieties are many, but all incorporate certain features, including: fissionable or fissile fuel; a moderating material (unless the reactor is operated on fast neutrons); a reflector to conserve escaping neutrons; provisions of removal of heat; measuring and controlling instruments; and protective devices.
Sanctions
Punitive measures, for example economic in nature, implemented in response to a state's violation of its international obligations.

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