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Iran Gets ‘Serious’ With Naval Expansion

Posted by Carlo Munoz on

WASHINGTON: Iran’s three new mini submarines could be Tehran’s first real step toward expanding its naval presence, but the regional powerhouse is still a long way from being a legitimate threat to the United States or its allies, according to one defense analyst.

Iranian naval officials last week unveiled the new Ghadir-class mini submarines they say will be used for defensive operations along their coast. The new boats brings the total number of Ghadir-class subs in the Iranian fleet to 14, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported. The boats “lack the firepower to be used as a platform that projects meaningful naval power,” according to Jonathan Rue, a defense analyst with the Washington-based defense think tank Institute for the Study of War. But the addition of the new mini subs represents the country’s first real step toward building a formidable naval power, he added.

“The new Ghadir sub deliveries are a sign that Iran is serious about upgrading its naval forces and using those forces to project its influence and expand its areas of operation,” according to Rue. Before Iran can begin building a fleet that can go from the Indian Ocean to the Straits of Malacca, it must be able to defend its own shorelines, he explained. By bolstering the Ghadir-class of subs Tehran is doing just that, Rue said. Once its territorial waters are secure Iran can start building the ships that will push its naval presence forward.

In an October report drafted by Rue and U.S. Navy Cmdr. Joshua Himes, the Iranian navy already has carried out missions as far as the Red Sea and the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea with its fleet of small, fast-attack vessels and Soviet-era Kilo attack subs. Iran’s maritime plans — which include new warships, ballistic anti-ship missiles and possibly a new aircraft carrier — could force the U.S. Navy to pour more money and manpower into operations to contain that bolstered force. But Washington still has plenty of time before it will really have to worry about that, Rue said.

“The gap between Iran’s navy and the US Navy is so large that Iran is decades away from reaching a point of near parity,” Rue said. The more immediate threat from Iran’s naval expansion will be felt by American allies in the Persian Gulf, he said. Countries like Saudi Arabia and others are already bolstering their naval forces to counter the potential Iranian threat, with help from their American counterparts.The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet will continue to maintain a strong presence in the region despite the service’s growing focus on the Western Pacific, Rue noted. “So a rising Iranian navy, while a concern and a growing menace, is not in a position to deny US access to international waters in the Persian Gulf or anywhere else,” he said.

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