U.S. aircraft carriers face Iranian stealth subs in the Persian Gulf. And remote controlled ones too…

Jan 19 2012 - 14 Comments

Although the U.S. Navy has just rescued sailors of an Iranian boat in distress for the third time in 10 days, Tehran doesn’t seem to appreciate the aid that the American warships are giving to Iranian civilian mariners in the Persian Gulf.

In an interview with the Fars News Agency, Rear Adm. Farhad Amiri said that Iran’s ordinary submarines, covered with coatings that make them stealth, since “do not allow sound to travel through them and do not reflect waves sent by sonar systems”, could by the worst threat U.S. aircraft carriers will have to face next time they cross the Strait of Hormuz.

Since they American flattops can’t track them, Iranian submarines have acquired the ability to hide at the proper depth and “when the submarine lies on the sea bed, it can easily target an aircraft carrier that is passing nearby,” Amiri said.

Being one of the most powerful tools in the hands of the U.S., aircraft carriers are one of the most ambitious targets of any anti-American country. That’s why they are also some of the most heavily defended assets which does not travel alone (as done by the Chinese trainer Varyag) but alongside a Strike Group (once known as Battle Group) including ships, supporting vessels and a nuclear submarine, whose task is, among the others, to defend the flattops from underwater attacks.

So, although I’m unable to determine whether the threat posed by the Iranian subs is real or not (actually unable to say whether the subs are really stealth because they don’t even exist…), I would still bet on the Carrier Strike Group. Especially considering the usual claims made by the regime in the last years.

According to Mehr News agency, in a couple of month Iran plans to launch new 500-ton submarine Fateh (Conqueror) submarine, whereas Iranian researchers have built a new 3-kg smart remote-control sub, with a submerged speed of 19 kts, capable to carry out surveillance missions for…one meter (I hope there was a problem with the translation otherwise this would remind me of the surveillance drone that resembled a radio-controlled scale model more than a modern drone).

  • Joseph Volpendesta

    Hi, David, quite some years ago, the Iranians went shopping. Along with some Mig-29s and Su-24s, they acquirred three Russian-built Kilo-class submarines, and, I believe, options on two more. These are diesel-electric boats that the Russsians swore by for shallow-water and coastal operations, claiming that they were quieter than a nuke. These submarines also featured a coating on their hulld that absorbed sonar impulses. The question is, are these boats still serviceable and are the Irnians capable of duplicating the technology. Thanks for your very informative blog.

  • Wild Bill

    I would imagine that there is a whole lot of pinging going on when the US battle group goes through the straights. No sense in hiding the Battle Group since they can be easily seen.

    Somehow I doubt that the Iranian subs are undetectable.

    • Ano N. Ymous

      Most certainly a lot of pinging. With a LOT of echoes coming from the very shallow bottom and whatever scrap and stuff lies there, even not counting the heavy traffic which would likely dissipate fast in the event of shooting. I don’t think the Iranian subs are undetectable either, but I do think there is a – small but real – chance one might get close to the task force unidentified.

      I’ll say what it might accomplish once there is completely another question though. But who knows how US electorate would react to even a non-sinking hit at an escort?

  • mcb

    It would be very interesting to see if there are enough “private military contractors” around who know how to run a Kilo-class boat well enough to cause a serious problem in the strait.

    As for their stealth bath tub subs – and other Persian tech marvels that result mostly in transnational ridicule – it seems to me the Iranians would be much more worrisome if they developed smart torpedo mines that simply lie on the bottom of the strait until needed.

  • 3 rescues in 10 days? I can’t help but think the IRGC is lulling USN/Allied warship into a false sense of security to eventually get into close proximity?
    Maybe the rescues are probing ops by the IRGC?

    • Interesting hypothesis. However these boats are taken by VBSS teams detached by aircraft carrier’s supporting ships, hence, besides being part of the same strike group, they have almost nothing to do with the flattop.

      • Ano N. Ymous

        You mean, the very ships that are responsible for the flattops inner ring defence, especially in the event that the air group is preoccupied with strike missions?

        • When I visited the USS Nimitz off Pakistan in 2009, I talked to the CSG Commander about anti-piracy, and then interviewed the Anti-Piracy TF commander.
          Let’s say that in normal ops (in that period Iranians made more or less the same claims even if the situation was less tense) a destroyer of the CSG-11 acted as the TF flagship and although attached to the Nimitz operated several miles away from it.

  • FYI, the Swedish Gotland sub was able to sneak up on any US warship during exercises a couple of years ago. The US rented our Swedish OPFOR services for an extra year just because they could not detect it and had to develop their methodology further.

    First link from Google with the scope pictures:

    The US navy probably did learn some lessons from those exercises and the Gotland is clearly superior to any Kilo sub, perhaps only rivaled by German subs (if any). If the Americans eventually did figure out how to detect the Gotland I doubt anything Iran has can go undetected for long.

    I also suppose there are a couple of Virginia or Seawolf subs in the Gulf as well, and they produce less sound during travel than the Los Angeles class subs do in port and are also covered in anechoic tiles.

    Traditionally warfare in the Middle East has been more posturing than fighting. How many times did Nasser promise that he would eradicate Israel from the map? (Many) And how well prepared was Egypt for actual war? (Not at all, it turned out…)

    • In recent years, during peacetime exercises, there have been even other examples of diesel subs coming very close to a US aircraft carrier. For sure, an episode involved an Italian submarine.

      However, in a period of growing tensions, I believe it is much more difficult for a sub to attack a carrier especially because a torpedo attack might not sink a carrier but will surely expose the submarine presence…

  • Stephen

    you are going to have to change the name of your blog site to David Cenciotti’s comedy club, some of your news items leave me laughing uncontrollably….
    If the Iranianians think they can hide on the bottom, sneak up on a sleepy little Strike Fleet, emerging to fire an underwater missile and keep their stealth paint on, then Alla must truly be the one…
    I would expect they would definately loose their stealth capabillity filling their pants, when the remote control sub gets one meter way from anything…
    Mind you central command might have recalled the binoculars used in the stealth airplane, so they will have extended vision…

    • Iranians would resemble much more threatening if they used their propaganda machine in a smarter way.

  • Richard Clements

    I noticed reports that the Abraham Lincoln Strike Group passed through the Straights of Hormoz on Sunday 22nd of January without incident.

  • Teufel Chuikov

    this is so sad…they couldnt even sink it…. all I saw was a group of small boats in a row shooting and missing..they didnt even show the shot that blew up the carrier…most likely cuz they detonated a charge in it….sad Iran..sad…