Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Takes to the Seas

  • Jean-Patrick Clancy
  • 11.12.2020 15:21

More than a floating bazaar, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps's latest acquisition has the potential of becoming an important strategic instrument capable of exerting Iran's political, economic and military influence in the Gulf. This would further contribute towards shaping the level of stability and security in the region when tensions between the US and Iran are at an all-time high and Tehran’s relations with Gulf States remain highly troubled. Its deep-sea ventures are more than ever a cause for concern, not only for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries but for the US and the EU as well.

An Unorthodox Addition to the IRGC’s Fleet

Last month, the Navy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGCN), during a ceremony held in the port of Bandar Abbas on the Strait of Hormuz, unveiled a brand new multi-purpose, long range heavy warship, the Shahid Roudaki. 

Amid heightened tensions with the US and the Gulf States, a newly-launched forward-operating sea base will be used “for defense, logistical support, and ensuring the security of Iran’s navigation routes in the region and abroad” according to IRGC chief Hossein Salami, providing security for “maritime transportation lines, oil tankers, commercial and fishing fleets on the high seas”.

Based on low-resolution images released by the IRGC, the 150m long and 22m wide ship is a roll-on, roll-off cargo vessel with an open deck capable of acting as a landing pad for a helicopter. A strange array of weapons systems were displayed on the deck during the ceremony such as drones (Ababil-2 and small quadrotor drones), a mobile launcher for the 3rd Khordad surface-to-air missile system, anti-ship cruise missiles as well as four speed boats, often seen in the Persian Gulf, and a Bell 421 helicopter - a peculiar display described by some analysts as a “floating arms bazaar” rather than a fearsome mobile naval city.

There are several obvious irregularities in the ship’s weapons systems which would still require major modifications to launch and recover speedboats featured on its deck, to maintain a helicopter, launch drones and missiles, and effectively operate as a sea base for Iran’s IRGC.

 

“The Shahid Roudaki could in reality be a reconverted 1992 Italian-built cargo vessel, the Altinia (or, Galaxy F), that was sold off last year to Italian shipyard”

 

This could be explained by the fact that the Shahid Roudaki could in reality be a reconverted 1992 Italian-built cargo vessel, the Altinia (or, Galaxy F), that was sold off last year to Italian shipyard Giovanni Visentini Trasporti Fluviomarittimi for $2.75 million and which was last recorded travelling between Iran and Singapore according to available data from MarineTraffic. The uncanny resemblance was first spotted by Jane’s Defence Weekly editor Jeremy Binnie.


Visual comparison of the IRCG’ Shahid Roudaki and Italian-built Altinia (aka. Galaxy F). Copyright: European Security Journal

 

This claim has prompted Italian parliamentarian, Antonio Zennaro, to file a formal inquiry request on the matter in order to better understand how Iran effectively managed to procure an Italian cargo vessel despite international sanctions on dual-use equipment.

But regardless of its origin, the repurposed ship, in spite of the criticism it has attracted, remains an important naval asset for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard for ocean-going operations - a mission usually attributed to Iran’s conventional Navy (IRIN) capable of operating in international waters, including the Mediterranean Sea - and power projection.

 

Beyond the Strait of Hormuz

The IRGC has now acquired a vessel capable of longer range missions which could allow it to pursue more ambitious operations as well as potentially operate as a mother ship for the recently commissioned 100 new fast attack boats last May.

The Shahid Roudaki - a response according to a recent AP report to the U.S. 5th Fleet which operates in the region from its Bahrain headquarters - illustrates the IRGC’s deep-sea aspirations.

Unlike Iran’s conventional navy, the IRGC Navy follows an asymmetric naval doctrine which focuses on mobility, deception, speed, flexibility and surprise in order to overwhelm their opponents in the Persian Gulf’s shallow waters and the narrow waters of the Strait of Hormuz - a method which has been used during close encounters with US warships as well as during the infamous capture of a British oil tanker in July 2019.

 

“The Shahid Roudaki has the potential of acting as a mothership which could increase the effectiveness of asymmetric operations”

 

This doctrine is supported by the use of small, fast and multirole vessels which could be used in hit-and-run guerilla-style activities, swarming tactics which are a convenient solution when faced with a more technologically advanced naval force by achieving surprise and confusion. These faster vessels have also been modified to perform mine-laying operations as naval mines remain a crucial component of the IRGC’s strategy in the waters it patrols.

The use of larger ships would, under normal circumstances, hinder the IRGC’s naval doctrine. Yet, the Shahid Roudaki has the potential of acting as a mothership which could increase the effectiveness of asymmetric operations. The past several years have seen Iran becoming increasingly militarily involved in Syria, Iraq as well as Yemen. As Tehran has its eyes set on regional conflicts, the IRGC could be looking at expanding its area of naval operations.

After all, IRGC Navy commander Alireza Tangsiri had announced earlier this year that the IRGC planned to establish a permanent base in the Indian Ocean by March 2021 because its presence in the Indian Ocean is “in line with the fulfillment of strategic naval capabilities by the orders of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution”.

 

“The IRGCN will be looking to project itself beyond the Gulf, exacerbating regional tensions and being actively involved in conflicts far beyond Iran’s shores”

 

This statement had already prompted speculation that the paramilitary force is looking into expanding its asymmetric operations beyond the Strait of Hormuz. 

The Guard’s latest naval acquisition could be used in the same way as the covert forward base Saviz - a spy ship anchored off the Yemen coast since 2017, suspected of being used to gather intelligence and of providing military and logistical support to the Houthis against the Saudi-led coalition.

Henceforth, the IRGCN will be looking to project itself beyond the Gulf, exacerbating regional tensions and being actively involved in conflicts far beyond Iran’s shores.

About author: Jean-Patrick Clancy

Partners

Tento web používá k analýze návštěvnosti soubory cookie. Používáním tohoto webu s tím souhlasíte. Další informace