Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Iran to use mines, missiles to shut Hormuz

Iranian lawmakers call for closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz amid a sharpening confrontation in the Persian Gulf while Revolutionary Guards display their missile might against a mock U.S. base during desert exercises.
But Tehran has a range of other weapons it can use to close down the vital oil artery.
These include the hard-to-detect Chinese EM-52 "rocket mine" that's triggered by the distinctive magnetic our acoustic signature of a ship, such as a U.S. aircraft carrier, and then launches a propelled 600-popund warhead at the target.
Then there's the Russian MDM6, equally difficult to detect, that can tackle multiple targets. It lies on the seabed that fires a torpedo-like warhead when it senses a vessel.
Both these mines can be laid by Iran's three Russian-built Kilo-class submarines.
As the United States builds up its forces in the gulf, including the recent arrival of four new mines countermeasures ships to boost U.S.-British minesweeping strength to 12, the New York Times quoted a senior Defense Department official as saying:
"The message to Iran is, 'Don't even think about it'. Don't even think about closing the strait. We'll clear the mines.
"Don't even think about sending your fast boats out to harass our vessels or commercial shipping. We'll put them on the bottom of the gulf."
It's clear the U.S. 5th Fleet, which right now includes two battle groups headed by the carriers Abraham Lincoln and the Enterprise and their formidable force of F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets, and U.S. air power in the region is vastly superior to Iran's military forces.
But the Iranians aren't planning to fight a conventional war with the more technologically advanced Americans.
They plan to employ what's known as asymmetric warfare, in which the weaker forces using unconventional means to overcome the power of a strong opponent.
That means mines, anti-ship missiles and swarm attacks by small heavily armed boats. Think Lilliputians against Gulliver.
By most accounts, Iran is believed to have as many as 3,000 sea mines. Some estimates go as high as 5,000.
Whatever, it's the fourth largest sea mine arsenal in the world after the United States, Russia and China, which has been supplying Iran with these weapons since 1998.
The EM-52 is probably the most dangerous mine Iran has. But the bottom-influence EM-11 and the EM-31 moored mine can also play havoc with surface craft.
So while the anonymous Pentagon official cited by The New York Times may well be right that the Americans will deep six Iran's warships, the allied naval forces face a formidable foe.
"Iran's ability to lay a large number of mines in a short period of time remains a critical aspect of the stated capability to deny U.S. forces access to the gulf and impede or halt shipping through the strait," cautioned U.S. analyst Anthony Cordesman in a March analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Iran has hundreds of anti-ship missiles, including 300 Chinese-designed C-201 Seersucker weapons and 200 C-801 indigenous Noor systems, deployed along its long gulf coastline, as well as air-launched weapons and cruise missiles.
"It's notable that the U.S. never successfully targeted Iraq's anti-ship missile assets during the war to liberate Kuwait, although they were deployed along a far smaller coastal area," Cordesman observed.
Iran's air force is largely made up of aging U.S.-built F-4 Phantoms and F-14 Tomcats acquired during the reign of the late Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi before he was toppled in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with some Soviet-era MiG-29s and Sukhoi Su-24 ground-attack jets.
These are outclassed and outgunned by the U.S. air power now deployed in the gulf.
Although Iran's army and the more formidable Revolutionary Guards Corps, a combined force of some 400,000 troops, vastly outnumber U.S. and allied ground forces, it's not likely that any conflict will involve such forces to any significant extent.
So it's from the sea the Iranians will out up their main fight.
How long the shooting will last is anyone's guess. U.S. firepower and technology will doubtless triumph in the end, but it won't be cost-free.
Hormuz could be closed to tanker traffic for several weeks, and the disruption in oil supplies will trigger severe global economic problems.
But it remains to be seen whether that will mean Iran backs off its nuclear project program.

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