Janes is reporting the Azerbaijan Coast Guard is procuring twelve new Israeli designed vessels to be built in Azerbaijan. These include six 62 meter OPVs (203 foot, the Greek ships of this class are about 450 tons full load) based on the Sa’ar 4.5 missile corvette and six 31.2 meter (102 foot, 95 ton) Shaldag patrol vessels.
SHALDAG Fast Patrol Craft (earlier, slightly smaller version)
Azerbaijan is one of five countries bordering the land locked (and reportedly oil rich) Caspian Sea. The others are Russia to the North, Iran to the South, and Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan on the other side of the Caspian. Russia has several missile corvettes and Iran has both corvettes and small submarines in the Caspian.
Azerbaijan’s total EEZ and total internal area is only 86,600 sq. km. The comparable figure for the US is over 250 times larger.
I’m afraid this may be another area where, in the not too distant future, Americans will get a geography lesson via troubling news reports.
The Iranians have announced that they intend to send a naval task force to provide a “powerful” presence off the US coast. Iranian military pronouncements frequently seem to be meaningless chest pounding for domestic consumption, and in all probability the task force will consist of only one warship smaller than a 270, and a replenishment vessel, but there may be more to this than simple theatrics. Informationdissemination suggests that this may be a way of cirumventing the UN sanctions on Iran and that perhaps this is a way to allow technology transfer. Likely port calls are Cuba and Venezuela.
At the risk of appearing paranoid, I’ll try to think like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp commander in charge of these vessels. I want to embarrass, degrade, and covertly attack the Great Satan in any way I can, as long as I don’t get caught. I might also have a opportunity to make a personal fortune. Might this be an opportunity to pass weapons, like shoulder launched SAMs, to terrorists already in the US by making rendezvous off shore, or to simply put agents ashore. It might be an opportunity make a substantial profit by delivering weapons to a drug cartel, maybe even a small submarine. There is of course the opportunity for technology transfers in both direction when port calls are made.
In November 2010 a German newspaper carried a story that the leaders of Iran and Venezuela had reached an agreement to establish a ballistic missile base in Venezuela armed with Iranian built IRBMs capable of reaching the US. This has been discounted by the State Department, but the logic of such an arrangement would have to be attractive to leaders of both Iran and Venezuela as a way of insuring against a US strike against either regime.
Should someone assign a shadow to these vessels while they are off the US coasts?
As informationdissemination notes, the Chinese are also expected in Caribbean Waters in the form of a hospital ship. If other, potentially hostile, navies start acting like the US Navy, keeping warships off our coasts, as they may in the not too distant future, how might the Coast Guard be different?
First, we had a report from The Telegraph that the Iranians had taken advantage of the chaos in Libya to steal dozens of sophisticated SA-24 Russian made shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles similar to “Stingers.”
NowFox News reports there may be as many as 20,000 of these weapons on the loose.
While this high number sounds unlikely, it does look like the supply and demand curves for shoulder launched SAMs is now working in favor of the bad guys.
gCaptain has an interesting post, “Tehran’s Ghost Fleet,” on how Iran has re-flagged and renamed some of their vessels and used shell corporations in an attempt to circumvent sanctions, including references to connections in China and Mexico.
The Israeli Navy has interdicted an arms smuggling vessel 200 miles off their coast. The arms are believed to have been en route Hamas in the Gaza strip, and there is speculation that the weapons, at least some of which were made in Iran, were delivered to Syria for transhipment by the Iranian Naval vessels that recently transited the Suez Canal.
Interestingly, among the arms found on board were Chinese designed, Iranian made C-704 anti-ship cruise missiles.
This is a smaller weapon than a harpoon. The Chinese make a series of anti-ship weapons, quoting, “While TL-10 series is specifically designed to engage boats displacing 500 tons or less, TL-6 series is specifically designed to engage larger naval vessel with displacement up to 1,000 tons. Along with C-704 that covers ships from 1,000 tons to 3,000 tons, and larger anti ship missiles such as C-802 that covers large ships, China has developed a complete anti ship cruise missile families that covers every displacement class. Western sources have claimed that the Iranian Nasr anti-ship missile is based on TL-6.”
A couple of interesting posts over at Information Dissemination today that bear on unconventional naval warfare in general, and Iran’s swarm tactics in particular.
First there is a discussion of how the Sri Lankan military defeated similar tactics by the Tamil Tigers separatist group, essentially by developing a swarm of there own, and by putting security teams on merchant ships.
There is also a discussion of why the US Navy appears unprepared to deal with these tactics.
We touched on this earlier. If there was an urgent need to develop a “swarm” of our own, it’s likely the Navy would again turn to the Coast Guard as a source for a large number of trained coxswains and small boat operators. They might even want some of our boats.
I can’t see our navy using swarm tactics offensively. They would use helicopters for that. But I can see them using them defensively, to protect vessels transiting the Straits of Hormuz.