Playing on Iran’s Home Court: The Great Strait of Hormuz Test

February 8, 2012

Any good armchair general with a good search engine and time on their hands can figure out in a hurry that the song and dance about Iran being unable to close the Strait if Hormuz for long  is just a plain crock. Worse than a crock. Yet, this big Orwellian lie persists, so once again I have to set the record straight. Iran has the capability of not only closing the Strait for some time, but creating a world of hurt for the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Iran possesses a build up of anti-ship weapons called Sunburn missiles, which it has procured from Russia and China over the last decade. These are top-notch weapons developed by the Russians as a low-cost challenge to the expensive, tech-heavy weaponry of the U.S., and specifically the aircraft carrier task force.  A conflict, which I now assign a high probability to [see Scenario for an Israel Attack on Iran], is going to be a huge test of a global-naval doctrine that Russia and China will watch with tremendous interest. That’s why I think they have armed Iran to the teeth. The big question: How many of these weapons does Iran have? I would suggest thousands, and that this is the real show.

Given that U.S. crony logic seems to be about squandering money on weapons in the military-industrial complex, I fear for young sailors and marines on the 5th Fleet. Don’t get me wrong, the US Navy is professional, but the Strait doesn’t allow for the normal defense in depth available in open seas, in fact it offers the Iranians a cross fire setup or triangulation (see map of Strait below) . If you read discussions on various military sites, there is a lively debate on American ship defense system like the Aegis.  However, almost nobody claims this to be fully protective against ship strikes. And an oil tanker, no way.  It is important that the US is working on new generation lasar defense to counter these missiles, however they are still in development. This puts added pressure for Iran to have this fight now, not later. The following is from  ”Russian Military Equality Network. (I have cleaned up the English a bit]

U.S. Navy Pacific Commander Admiral Timothy Keating said that due to lack of sufficient funds for the procurement of simulated target missile defense system,  the U.S. Navy can not now afford to fight “the club” category of supersonic anti-ship missiles. It is reported that the U.S. military that is used to simulate the “club” missile target missile is still being developed, and is expected to be put into use in 2014.

The Sunburn is perhaps the most lethal anti-ship missile in the world, designed to fly as low as 9 feet above ground/water at more than 1,500 miles per hour (mach 2+).  The missile uses a violent pop-up maneuver for its terminal approach to throw off Phalanx and other U.S. anti-missile defense systems. Given their low cost, they’re perfectly suited for close quarter naval conflict in the bathtub-like Persian Gulf.

The Sunburn is versatile, and can be fired from practically any platform, including just a flat bed truck. It has a 90-mile range, which is all that is necessary in the small Persian Gulf and 40-mile-wide Strait of Hormuz.  Fired from shore a missile could hit a ship in the Strait in less than a minute. It presents a real threat to the U.S. Navy. Tests using the Aegean and RAM ship defense technology stops the Sunburn 95% of the time, but such testing was done in open seas, not a bathtub. The payload hit with a 750-pound conventional warhead  can be witnessed at 1:53-1:57 in this video. Not enough to sink a carrier, but it could take down smaller capital ships and crew.

You don’t have to be Hannibal preparing for the Battle of Cannae to see that the Strait is a potential shooting gallery. Without a doubt, Iran has plotted and mapped every firing angle and location along the Gulf, their home-court coastline. This is going to put enormous interdiction pressure on U.S. warplanes to spot and destroy platforms, which may be as simple as a flat-bed truck. In reality, Iran has dug in from Jask in the east to Bandar in the west and can easily cover any ship, commercial or military, traversing the narrow Strait.

Equally disturbing is Iran’s missile range for the entire Persian Gulf. Bahrain itself could be hit by the longer-range version of the Sunburn, the Onyx. Is the U.S. (which has three aircraft carrier groups in play currently) going to stick around or clear out to the Oman Sea, leaving control of the oil lanes to Iran? Or will they stay and slug it out with the Iranians? If so, at what cost? Iran’s home court strategic advantage and weaponry may mean nasty losses for the 5th Fleet.  If they leave, the Iranians would use naval mines to close the strait and missiles to hamper the mine clearing operations.

30 Responses to Playing on Iran’s Home Court: The Great Strait of Hormuz Test

  1. dexy on February 8, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Your analysis would be good if there wasn’t one small flaw. Iran does not posses any of supersonic missiles you have mentioned. Sunburn and Onyx are not part of Iranian arsenal, but nevertheless, they would(will?) be a formidable opponent to international coalition that is preparing for potential war.
    US Navy would probably try to land marines on Iranian side of Hormuz and prevent them to use coastal defense launchers of their anti-ship missiles. Latest Navy drill called Bold Alligator is in progress, and they are practicing just such a scenario.

    • Russ Winter on February 8, 2012 at 4:22 pm

      What is your source for this statement.

      Do a simple search and you will see numerous references to Iranian Sunburns or modeled on Sunburn. How many is speculation, but these aren’t that tough to buy. If anything I think I have understated the Iranian inventory. They are mass producing huge numbers of short range missiles, all that is necessary in the bathtub.

      • dexy on February 8, 2012 at 6:15 pm

        I have done my research, and used Iranian sources, as well as Russian. The first source that mentioned that those missiles are delivered to Iran is some conspiracy theorist.
        We all know US reaction on Russian delivery of Onyx to Syria, don’t you think that reaction would be the same if such a missiles were delivered to Iran?
        Iran does produces subsonic missiles based on Chinese design, and using micro turbo jet engines to extend their range up to 200km, but if US led coalition could establish air-supremacy over Iran and marines take part of Iranian coastline, they could defeat that threat without or with reasonably low loses.

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that war with Iran would (will) be an easy ride for US and their allies, but I’m sure that they will not be naive enough to pose as sitting ducks for Iranian missiles.

        • Russ Winter on February 8, 2012 at 6:24 pm

          I say they have a good stockpile simply because this would be real wartime testing of these weapons. And if they performed as advertised it would have game changing impact. I doubt if Russia and China would give Iran first strike use, but if Iran were attacked different story.

          • dexy on February 9, 2012 at 10:02 am

            They do have a good stockpile of domestically produced subsonic anti-ship missiles, and some imported from China (also subsonic), but none of those are supersonic Sunburn or Onyx (Yakhont) made in Russia, and your whole article is based on false information that Iran is in possession of this two types of missiles.
            Nevertheless, we can still debate about Iranians capability of closing Straight of Hormuz, and US to prevent it, or open it for oil tankers in short period of time.

          • Russ Winter on February 9, 2012 at 10:46 am

            Ok based on my “false assumption” that Iran doesn’t have supersonic missiles, how do you position the US fleet. You better be right.

        • Arty on February 13, 2012 at 11:58 am

          The Ghader missile

    • JAB on February 13, 2012 at 2:55 pm

      It is rumored that Iran already has nukes and that they had tested one in 1997. Even the Washington Post has reported on this possibility. Now if true, then It changes everything. The US will have missles hitting the Conus from Venezualia as well.

  2. Jack on February 8, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    You also seem to be presupposing that control of the strait would require a carrier or other warship traversing the area. The entire strait and likely firing locations are well within the range of allied attack aircraft, which could engage launch sites well before any warships were needed in the strait itself. Sure, the Iranians could temporarily stop traffic, but there’s no way they could gain and hold sea control for an extended period.

    • Russ Winter on February 8, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      That would be wise for the fleet to go into the Sea of Oman and operate from a distance. After 100% of Iran’s anti-ship platforms and small craft were taken out, then oil tankers could traverse. But how likely is that, and how long would it take?

      The only way to directly interdict an Mach 2 anti-ship missile (coming from 30 miles away onshore) is from close range. The Sea of Oman won’t cut it.

      • JamesD on February 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm

        If you are arguing that Iran could close the Strait, you are correct. However I doubt they could keep it closed a month. Carpet bombing the coast line would commence. Closing the Strait would be all-out war. That is one thing America won’t tolerate. Heck, after the carpet bombing, infantry would invade. It is how the V-2 threat from Germany was neutralized. They were overrun. Again, closing the Strait means all out war. Which is why we need to tell our Congressman to quit messing with Iran. It is not in our interest.

        • Arty on February 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm

          Concur JamesD. Closing the Straight will lead to all out war as well economic devastation – in Europe first – but gradually elsewhere. Everywhere elsewhere.

  3. roger on February 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm


    It’s not clear if Iran possesses or not the Sunburn but one thing is sure is that they have large quantities of Chinese C-802 missiles (manifactured in Iran under the name Noor and Qadr which is a long range variant). One such missile hit an Israeli ship during the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war.

    Also Iran has just developed a new anti-ship cruise missile named Zafar – check youtube to look at it.

  4. Russ Winter on February 8, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Rick Santorum sweeps three primaries. His views on Iran:

    SANTORUM: And finally, I would be working openly with the state of Israel and I would be saying to the Iranians, you either open up those facilities, you begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors or we will degrade those facilities through air strikes – and make it very public that we are doing that. [...]
    GREGORY: So you would lay out a red line, and if they passed it, air strikes by a President Santorum?
    SANTORUM: Iran will not get a nuclear weapon under my watch.
    GREGORY: Well, two previous presidents have said that. You would order air strikes if it became clear that they were going to…
    SANTORUM: Yes, that’s — that’s the plan.

  5. Russ Winter on February 8, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Business Insider picked up my article. There are some very good additional observations by others in the comment section.

    • tricky rick on February 10, 2012 at 11:46 am

      Hey Russ… great site… love it. I signed up yest but can’t get in today. Password problem (more like a memory problem on my psart ha ha ha)?? but there is no prompt for password reset! SOS…

  6. rapier on February 8, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    What I think Russ is missing is that any, and I mean any, military action on Iran, even in response to an attack on Iran by anyone will bring a gigantic air response against them including their cities. If Iran is stupid enough to keep stirring this hornets nest then we along with Israel, with the Saudis cheering us on, will go about destroying modern Iran. I do no preclude our own nuclear strike against them particularly if Iran does hit one of our ships.

    America is chomping at the bit to kick someones ass, especially Iran’s, and as I said Israel and the Saudis are on board as well.

    A short term spike in oil prices seems likely from this and figuring what it may to to all markets in any tiom eframe is everyone’s guess. Not to mention wider geo political effects particularly with China which depends so much on Iranian oil and natgas. Knock yourself out trying to guess. My main point however is that the increasingly hard line Iranian leadership is walking right off a cliff.

    • JamesD on February 9, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      America is not chomping at the bit to kick someone’s ass. And Iran is not stirring up the hornets nest. This is one things I have to give credit to Obama for, he appears to be holding back. Americans are sick of wars not in our interest. Americans care about one thing: jobs.

      • tricky rick on February 9, 2012 at 4:55 pm

        agreed… it’s the money scam run by the bankers and hedge funds that want and NEED the diversion of attention – it always relates to money. That and the mistaken impression that wars promote GROWTH and prosperity…. anyway we can fit any Keynesian economist into a missle…we have lots of ammo and they are toxic!!!!!

  7. Jackov on February 9, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Sea mines could easily close the Strait.

  8. JamesD on February 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Why would the Navy put a carrier into the Strait of Hormuz? Why not hang back in the Gulf of Oman or even the Indian Ocean? Yeah, if Iran wants to shutdown the Strait, it can. And it may sink one supertanker. May. Once Iran closed the Strait, US forces would attack it. From land bases and from aircraft carriers located a safe distance away. So Iran’s ability to fire missiles at sitting ducks is meaningless.

  9. Trevor21703 on February 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Why put carriers in the way when you have four Ohio-class SSGNs that could create a swarm of their own? I would say that four hundred Tomahawks guided by GPS would pretty much completely obliterate any known Iranian cruise and air defense missile sites within minutes or hours, and if you use Time On Target, they won’t know what hit them. Then, you send in the B-2s with enough JDAMS to level any SUSPECTED sight. THEN you send in F-18′s more tomahawks, and you keep going until Iran is completely disarmed.

    Did you forget about our SSGNs? Or our long-range strike capabilities?
    I think you did.

    • tricky rick on February 9, 2012 at 5:02 pm

      Hey Trevor … yup, very impressive. Just like IRAQ on TV. Iraq didn’t have any big friends so US could bully without thought. Think China and Russia (who have pledged support) will sit by and watch their puppet pummeled. Want to stir that up? Okay…but put 50% assets on standby for that fight. And if that starts, senor, we are in some deep doo doo.

      • Trevor21703 on February 10, 2012 at 7:06 am

        I am not saying we start anything, I’m just completely refuting the author’s contention that the Iranian military could close the Straits for any extended period. They have little or no combined arms doctrine, while the United States military has been fighting for over a decade. Plus the US has enough friends in the region to provide logistical support in the gulf if needed.
        And Russia and China? What could they do? Seriously, do you think that either one of these nations would move against the US, especially if the US made ironclad assurances to China that their supply of oil would not be threatened? Russia (a fossil fuel exporter, remember) would LOVE the increased prices and would tolerate the loss of a client state. Each side has exactly ZERO power projection capabilities, and most certainly wouldn’t even THINK of threatening a nuclear strike since each side is hopelessly outclassed by the US arsenal and wouldn’t see a strike coming until their early warning radars were taken out. SO, Iran, China, and Russia have few options, especially if Iran makes the first move.

        Of course, I most certainly hope we can keep a lid on this and allow Iran to do what it wants as long as it plays by the established international rules. But if they attack Israel or some terror group gets one of their nukes, which again I feel would be highly unlikely, we knock the hell out of them.
        All of this is pure speculation at this point, I just hope that each side stays somewhat rational, because the global economy is on the brink as it is.

        Sorry this is rambling, but there’s a lot to think about. But again, the author’s original claim is dubious at best.
        Thank you.

        • tricky rick on February 10, 2012 at 11:44 am

          I understand your point… and it’s a bit like playing the jv team … regarding Russia and China? IMO they could presipitate and collapse of our currency (rumors are swirling about meetings with such aims already). Push comes to shove, China could call our bonds… sure it would hurt them, but they have the reserves to survive better than we. Russia could loose mayhem in Baltics and Syria… dangerous game. solution?

  10. pdlane on February 10, 2012 at 7:22 am

    And…. Do not forget Reza Shah’s 1939 plan to bottle up the Gulf which the present Iranian government has most likely updated.
    Re: the sinking of a couple of old freighters in the narrow shipping channels to block entrance to and exit from the Gulf…

    • tricky rick on February 10, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      let’s hope those man made barriers are NOT our kids!

      Course, they could do legally too…it’s in their territorial domain as a good portion of the travel water is.

      theoretically we would be illegally be intruding into their domain in those waters… I’m no lawyer but seems an act of war would have to be declared?

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