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Iran Just Flexed Its Anti-Ship Missiles

June 23, 2020

Via Iranian media.

Last week the Islamic Republic once again demonstrated how it can shut down the Persian Gulf and nearby waters using anti-ship missiles. The ground and naval exercises held on June 18, a Thursday, involved a coastal defense unit and at least two naval ships–this much was revealed by Iranian media. As in previous years a live missile, believed to be part of a common family, was launched from its transporter and struck a target vessel, resulting in a catastrophic explosion. Separate launches were carried out at sea for an extended range missile with unconfirmed results.

The Iranian military also claimed its anti-ship missiles are effective within 280 kilometers and have a maximum range of 700 km. It wasn’t specified which models possessed these characteristics although it’s safe to assume the land-based anti-ship missiles have the shorter range; being able to reach targets as far as 280 km is very telling as this distance covers the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. The transporters for these weapon systems combine a locally made launcher armed with either two or three missiles on the bed of a commercial truck like the one pictured above. Iran does maintain a formidable variety of anti-access weapon systems for deterring incursions along its broad and vulnerable coastline. This was proven in mid-2019 when a US Global Hawk surveillance drone was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz by a medium-range SAM known as “3rd of Khordad.”

Photos from the June 18 exercise showed another missile being launched from a warship. Its appearance matched the external characteristics of the locally made “Ghadir” or “Qadir” anti-ship missile. There’s a consensus Iran’s remarkable advances in developing anti-ship missiles is because of technology transfer from China in the late 1980s beginning with Silkworm missiles, which were improved copies of Soviet vintage Termit anti-ship missiles. China is also responsible for helping establish Iran’s other missile technologies, especially those for anti-aircraft purposes, like the sale of HQ-2/2B SAMs (copies of the Soviet vintage S-75 SAMs) that were later reproduced by Iran to enhance its fledgling air defenses.

At this point, with relations between Iran and the West remaining broken since the US refuses to uphold the JCPOA, the effectiveness of Iranian missile technology is beyond doubt. In September 2019 the IRGC coordinated an elaborate strike on Saudi Arabia’s most important energy infrastructure. It was later found out that propeller-driven loitering munitions, or “kamikaze drones,” and subsonic cruise missiles were able to enter Saudi territory without being detected and travel hundreds of kilometers toward their respective targets. In January the IRGC once again showed its mettle with a bombardment of US targets in Iraq–a shared military base and locations in Kurdistan–using its short-range ballistic missiles. The attack on Ain Al-Asad wrecked whole buildings and left more than a hundred US military personnel with brain injuries from concussive shock.

Considering the extent of Iran’s coastline and its challenging geography, as well as the military’s funding for missile production, there’s no easy method to assess the anti-ship missiles that are now stockpiled. But if their best use is for blocking the transit of navies in the Arabian Sea a few units dedicated to coastal defense, with assistance from drones and other surveillance tools, can suffice for the task. Given the current state of Iran’s anti-access defenses regional navies face a daunting task trying to challenge the Islamic Republic’s presence in its nearby seas.

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