Sunday, December 01, 2013

Iranian navy takes another big step outward

A couple of years ago, the Iranian navy announced it had deployed a submarine to the Red Sea as part of its patrol force there.  We can’t be sure (from out here in Unclassified World) how many times submarines have deployed to the Red Sea since.  It’s probably not many; Iran does better now with her Russian-built, Kilo-class submarines than she used to, in terms of keeping them ready and deployable, but her performance still wouldn’t be called great.
It’s good enough, however, to back up last week’s announcement that the Kilo-class submarine Younus (also spelled Younes and Yunes in transliteration) was heading for a deployment around the Indian Ocean, and would make stops in India and Sri Lanka while it was out.  The submarine will be accompanied by the frigate Alborz (British-built Vosper Mark V class) and the auxiliary ship Bandar Abbas (a German-built 1970s-era replenishment ship with small deck guns, used for some patrol duties as well as supply missions).

The original announcement, from Admiral Siyavash Jarreh, deputy navy chief for operations, described the deployment as heading to “East Asia,” but it’s not clear how far east it will actually go.  A surface task group consisting of a frigate and the auxiliary ship Kharg made a voyage to China in early 2013, calling in the East China Sea port of Zhangjiagang at the mouth of the Yangtze River (near Shanghai).
(Reportedly, the Iranians later announced that these ships had “forced” an Australian surveillance aircraft to “turn away” during a routine encounter in the Indian Ocean.  According to the Australians, the encounter was ordinary, friendly, and professional, with no “forcing” involved.)
But it’s doubtful the submarine Younus will go that far east.  The Kilo-class submarines are diesel-powered, conventionally-aspirated submarines which need to snorkel periodically, and require refueling during extended deployments.  Younus couldn’t travel further east without a guaranteed place to refuel between India or Sri Lanka and China.  The politics of refueling a foreign submarine, especially Iran’s submarine, are more freighted than those of admitting foreign surface combatants to local ports; it’s unlikely that Iran has made such arrangements yet (with, say, Malaysia).  Transiting the Six-Degree Channel south of Great Nicobar Island, and the Strait of Malacca itself, would also entail making the submarine particularly vulnerable to detection.  Iran would not retain control of how much she let other nations know about the Kilo submarine’s presence.
The day when Iran’s submarines go farther asea is presumably coming, however.  Long before her submarines become a potential threat off the coast of the United States... [See rest at links]
J.E. Dyer
CDR, USN (Ret.)
Hemet, CA

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