Sunday, December 2, 2007

Observing Iranian Submarines

There is a new video first released by IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) out highlighting recent naval modernizations taking place in the Iran, specifically a destroyer and submarine refit. We are unable to confirm the date when the video was taken, but it did pop up on the internet over the last week.

We note with interest two aspects of the video. First, the video shows a Kilo class submarine as being overhauled, and from all indications it does not appear to be in disrepair as previously advertised. It also does not appear to be available for operations anytime soon. If this video is indeed recent, it is an interesting piece of intelligence worth noting, because combined with media reporting earlier this week, it gives the general state and location of all 3 Iranian Kilo class submarines.

Officials aboard the cruiser Vicksburg spotted and photographed two surfaced Iranian Kilo-class submarines in the Persian Gulf a few weeks ago, the ship’s skipper told U.S. Navy Secretary Donald Winter during a visit to the ship on Nov. 24.

The Russian-designed diesel-electric attack subs were tracked and photographed by sailors onboard the Mayport, Fla.-based ship, said Capt. Chip Swicker. Crew members showed Winter the photographs of the surfaced subs. The Vicksburg did not communicate with either of the subs, Swicker said.

“They watched us and we watched them,” he said.

The article goes on to note the USS Vicksburg (CG 69) is near the Iranian coast when the incident occurred. That is an interesting piece of information. It has been noted that the cruiser of the ESG, which the Vicksburg is, traditionally operates in the northern Gulf region near the Iraqi Oil Terminals. Adding this piece of information implies the incident took place in the North Persian Gulf. If true, I would think we are getting a half story from the reporter regarding the level of alarm. Within Iranian territorial waters or not, if it is near the northern Persian Gulf I'd be a heck of a lot more alarmed than if the encounter took place in the Southern part of Iran.

However, the video has another piece of noteworthy footage, specifically the video pans a Nahang class mini-submarine. We have previously discussed the various Iranian underwater warfare capabilities, but recently we have had some debate regarding the purpose of the Nahang class. From our perspective, from a public perspective we have the most photography of the Nahang class mini-submarine, but internally we have the most contention regarding what this mini-submarine is.

For example. Iran has 4 mini-submarines of an unknown class that it obtained from North Korea almost a decade ago. Those submarines are almost completely dedicated to divers, and calling them mini-submarines is somewhat a misnomer, as they are better described as swimmer delivery vehicles. We have also observed the Ghadir class which is clearly designed to be a mine laying submarine, able to deploy up to 16 mines per sortie. However, when it comes to the Nahang, there are a number of theories.

The Nahang appears to be a bit wider and a bit longer than the Ghadir, perhaps as much as twice the displacement (around 350-400 tons), and appears to have more electronics than other mini-submarines observed. The first theory, of which I'm not a subscriber, is that the mini-submarine is intended for offensive warfare operations against other ships. The second theory, which is possible, is the Nahang can deploy either more or larger mines than the Ghadir class can. The third theory is that the Nahang class is for smuggling and special operations.

I don't really know, my expertise is in systems not submarine engineering, so we offer some of these photo's hoping that our readers can offer some insights into what this submarines purpose is. Clearly we all observe some 'characteristics' of the submarine based on the photography, and there is no reason to expand that discussion, however our interest isn't capabilities rather purpose. With an understanding that Iran has swimmer delivery vehicles for diver operations, and the Ghadir class is almost certainly for mine warfare, based on models and photo's (of which many more are available via google image search) we are looking for broader opinion regarding potential purpose of this class. If you have a theory that doesn't 'detail' too much information not for public consumption, please offer an opinion in the comments.

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