FASCINATING – AT 8:57 A.M. ET: We have a history, as do other Western nations, of underestimating enemies. Why, those little yellow men with thick glasses could never reach Pearl Harbor...could they? And hey, what is this MIG-15 the North Koreans are throwing against us? Probably a toy...right?
We now have a confrontation with Iran, although you'd never know it listening to Dr. Kool in the White House. We are assuming that a military clash would be easy, and it might turn out that way, although I hope we never have to find out.
But the Iranians are not known as stupid. Persia has a remarkable history. Its diplomatic service has traditionally been regarded as one of the best in the world. Its scientists are mastering nuclear technology. The Iranians understand their limitations, but are showing unusual resolve and innovation. If they have to fight the U.S. Navy, they will face overwhelming odds in conventional terms, so they're turning to unconventional means. Get this, from London's Telegraph, about a small, record-breaking British racing boat:
...after a series of clandestine transactions worthy of a Bond film, the British boat is berthed in Bandar Abbas, on the southern coast of Iran, where the West fears it has been fitted out with a deadly array of weapons systems. The naval port is home to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy (IRGN), who hope the Bradstone Challenger’s record-beating speed will prove decisive in any military engagement with American and Royal Navy warships in the Persian Gulf.
Tensions are currently running dangerously high in the region. On Friday, Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described Israel’s existence as an “insult to humanity”, just as Israel’s defence leaders openly debated whether to launch air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. If Israel does attack, all eyes will be on Iran’s response. Options include using its arsenal of Shahab-3 ballistic missiles, authorising Hizbollah to fire rockets at Tel Aviv from its bases in South Lebanon, and blocking the Strait of Hormuz with mines.
It’s the last option that most concerns the West. Thirty-five per cent of the world’s seaborne oil shipments pass through the narrow Strait. A blockade would lead to soaring oil prices and inevitably drag America’s Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, into any conflict. And a naval exchange might just represent Iran’s best chance of landing a blow on the West.
It would certainly explain why the Iranians have been busy acquiring Western speedboats. (In the past, they have bought fast patrol boats from Italy, too.) Acknowledging the David-and-Goliath discrepancy between its own armed forces and the West’s, Iran has developed various “asymmetric” approaches to warfare. On land, it has supported Hizbollah’s hit-and-run guerilla strikes against Israel. At sea, it has been perfecting the art of “swarm attacks”, in which up to 100 armed speedboats approach an enemy warship from all directions. Surprise, confusion and speed are key to their success. And unleashed in the Strait of Hormuz, which is only 20 miles across at its narrowest point, the consequences could be devastating...
...Most of the speedboats in any swarm attack would be destroyed by US helicopter gunships, unmanned aerial vehicles and ship-mounted Phalanx close-in weapons systems (a radar-guided gattling gun that fires up to 4,500 rounds a minute), but it would only need one suicide boat to get through for such an attack to be successful. If the target were an aircraft carrier, the images of a stricken, $4.5 billion flagship would reverberate around the world like September 11.
COMMENT: And that is the point. Our navy was not designed to fight in such close quarters. And it would not even take a successful attack on an aircraft carrier – the supreme target in Iranian and American minds – to produce trauma in the United States and among our allies.
The United States has not suffered a capital naval loss since World War II. A destroyer was bombed and damaged during the Vietnam conflict, but not sunk. A support vessel was sunk by a commando team while in harbor. Some smaller river boats were lost. In Korea we lost several minesweepers, but no major combatants.
If Iran sank an American guided-missile cruiser, or an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the mainstay of our surface combatant fleet, it would be a supreme humiliation for the U.S. Navy. That is what the Iranians are driving at. And an aircraft carrier? To Iran, that would be like Pearl Harbor.
August 20, 2012