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These Iranian Fast Attack Craft Have Never Been Seen Before

September 2, 2020

Via Iranian media.

In late May the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) conducted an impressive handover ceremony for its latest watercraft. Iranian media were quick to spin the occasion as an achievement for the national shipbuilding industry’s “missile boats.” But the reality of the May 28 handover was a far cry from what the local news claimed. With the exception of a few submersibles for special forces the watercraft arrayed along a pier in Bandar Abbas on May 28, a Thursday, were mostly speedboats meant for coastal policing. What Iranian media left out were four mysterious twin hull fast attack craft that were photographed at the same event. (See above.)

The IRGC’s naval arm is a modest branch with a colorful inventory. Since 2010 its selection of speedboats and fast attack craft grew beyond expectations and media coverage has focused attention on the Zolfaqar, which carries two launchers for anti-ship missiles, and other small vessels equipped with machine guns and rocket launchers. The IRGCs speedboats figured prominently in 2019 when they boarded and sabotaged oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. But on May 28 at least four twin hull catamarans were pictured next to a Zolfaqar fast attack craft. Browsing news of the same event reveals no clues about the name of these boats and other details. They do appear twice larger than the Zolfaqar with each having four discernible launchers for anti-ship missiles installed around the fully enclosed bridge.

Since the 1990s the IRGC operated Chinese-made Houdong-class fast attack craft that boasted a combination of guns and missiles. A variant of the Houdong-class later manufactured in Iran became known as the Thondar-class. But the catamarans at the May 28 event aren’t based on the Thondar-class, whose dimensions and weight make it impractical for them to be carried on a trailer. Neither do the catamarans have weapon stations on their bow or stern to mount cannons or guns. If these are the first batch in a new class of fast attack craft their role indicates a shift in the IRGC’s focus on “swarming” with lightly armed speedboats that can disrupt maritime traffic through hijacking or sabotage to operations involving surface warfare at intermediate ranges.

As these twin hull catamarans deploy with four anti-ship missiles this represents enough firepower to attack much larger naval vessels. Iran’s military industrial sector is renowned for its catalog of missiles and the current generation of locally made subsonic anti-ship missiles have ranges exceeding 100 kilometers. The IRGC does claim its shore-based defenses includes missiles capable of reaching between 280 km and 700 km. The introduction of a twin hull design for a heavier fast attack craft is another indicator the IRGC, along with the regular armed forces, have set new benchmarks for their operational range and overall deployment away from the restrictive geography of the Persian Gulf.

There’s a notable trend in shipbuilding and modernization geared toward re-equipping Iran’s separate naval fleets who are stuck with either aging or inadequate vessels. This is apparent with recent advances in submarine design and construction as well as publicized efforts at launching either frigates or “destroyers” from a state-owned shipyard. As for the new class of twin hull catamarans unveiled three months ago it may take awhile until they join the IRGC’s naval branch in considerable numbers.

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