TEHRAN — The Navy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will receive two new warships capable of carrying helicopters, a senior commander announced on Saturday.
Speaking in a television interview, IRGC Navy chief Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri said the two warships, named after IRGC Navy martyrs Mahdavi and Baqeri, are 240 meters long and 21 meters high, Tasnim reported.
Tangsiri said the two warships are also capable of carrying missiles and dozens of drones, while the Baqeri warship is also equipped with a runway for unmanned aircraft.
He added that the two new vessels can navigate remote waters and provide security for Iranian commercial vessels on the high seas.
The Rear Admiral also pointed to the local patrol combat warship named after Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, saying the advanced ship is equipped with air defense missiles, including 16 short-range Navvab missiles and 6 Sayyad at medium range.
Tangsiri also said four cruise missiles have been installed on the patrol combat warship which can hit targets at ranges of 90, 140, 300 and 750 kilometers.
Last month, Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, chief of staff of the armed forces, said it was the first Iranian warship equipped with air defense missiles with a vertical launch system capable of fire medium and short range missiles.
The warship’s hull material uses stealth technology techniques with a low radar cross-section, the commander said, adding that it can navigate oceans and rough seas for various operations.
Equipped with four powerful local engines, the Shahid Soleimani warship can perform long-range naval missions without shore logistics.
The IRGC Navy launched the warship Shahid Soleimani on September 5.
Admiral Tangsiri said the ships would increase the operational range of his forces beyond the Persian Gulf to up to 9,000 km, which would cover the entire Indian Ocean up to Cape Town.
The IRGC Navy has long aspired to send warships to waters near the United States.
In July 2021, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) deployed the converted supertanker Makran and another vessel to St. Petersburg, Russia, using a circuitous route that circumnavigated Africa and crossed the Mediterranean Sea.
A New Height in Iran’s Strategic Competition
At the Shahid Soleimani’s launch ceremony, IRGC chief Major General Hossein Salami called the aluminum warship another high point in Iran’s strategic competition as a determined world-class power to establish a regional hegemony over its adversaries. According to him, “the national security domain and radius of the country goes as far as our interests” – including the distant seas if determined by the general staff of the armed forces.
In a September 16 commentary, the Washington Institute said Taiwan’s Tuo Chiang-class missile corvette launched in 2014 was similar in length (65 meters) and capability, the Shahid Soleimani is designed to support and provide fire protection for high-speed armed boats away from Iranian waters. This includes the three boats he can transport himself.
The Taiwanese class is designed to counter Chinese Navy vessels via hit-and-run tactics and has been dubbed an “aircraft carrier killer”. The same moniker has been applied to China’s smaller Type 22 missile catamaran, which Iran reportedly tried to buy in recent years before producing its own class (Beijing refused to sell). The IRGC Navy also claims the Shahid Soleimani is a “stealth” ship with the radar section of a small boat.
As for weapon systems, the new ship is the first Iranian warship equipped with vertical launchers that can fire anti-aircraft missiles up to a range of 150 km. It can also use six box launchers to fire anti-ship missiles such as the Nasir, Ghader and Ghadir, with ranges of 35-300 km. Taken together, these capabilities have led Iranian officials to say that Shahid Soleimani has a “lethal range” of over 750 km.
To be sure, Iran already has other weapon systems that meet or exceed this range, such as the Abu Mahdi anti-ship cruise and land-attack missile unveiled in 2020, which can reach 700 to 1,000 km. Yet the Shahid Soleimani could significantly extend its range (albeit with less strike power) by launching suicide drones such as the Shahed-131 or 136, which can hit targets up to 1,000 km (or even 2,200 km) away. .
The ship may also be capable of launching the Quds-1/2 cruise missile and the “Article 385” anti-aircraft cruise missile.
As for electronic warfare capabilities, the ship would be capable of carrying a lot of such equipment, including advanced decoy launchers. In his current configuration, however, Shahid Soleimani has minimal electronic equipment installed.
Catamarans are generally faster and more maneuverable than conventional vessels and offer better stability and seakeeping in rougher seas thanks to their double hull design. It also makes them more difficult to sink, although aluminum ship hulls tend to melt quickly if set on fire by a sea mine, missile or other projectile (as seen when a catamaran operated by the United Arab Emirates was destroyed by a single Houthi missile in October 2016 while transiting the Bab al-Mandab Strait).
A shipbuilding industry in the making
Other missile corvettes of the same type as Shahid Soleimani are currently under construction at the Bandar Abbas, Qeshm Island and Bushehr shipyards, and the WRI Navy has said it will deploy them at pace. one per year, indicating an accelerated delivery schedule. The prime contractor for this program is IRGC Navy’s Shahid Mahalati Naval Industries, with Ministry of Defense companies Shahid Darvishi and Shahid Mahboobi working as contractors.
In November 2018, the Iranian parliament passed a law merging all marine factories and industrial groups of the Ministry of Defense into a single entity, the “Armed Forces Maritime Industries Organization”. Collectively, these companies produce everything from small fast boats to frigate-sized warships, medium submarines, Aframax tankers, diesel engines, waterjets, gearboxes, and more. ., with the aim of making Iranian domestic naval production fully self-sufficient. This goal may be aided by the fact that Iran’s maritime industries are considered less affected by US sanctions than its aviation and missile industries.
Iran vehemently opposes the US naval presence in West Asian waters, with IRGC naval officials noting that they work daily to prepare and expand their arsenal in a bid to repel US forces. Another key mission has emerged over the past two years: deterring Israel from extending its maritime reach to waters near Iran following the normalization of Jerusalem’s relations with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Tehran has also expanded its “maritime security” presence in the Red Sea after a series of strikes against Iranian ships there, culminating in the April 2021 attack on the floating dockyard.
Additionally, IRGC Navy officials note that the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called on them to extend their reach to distant seas, framing this mission as a complement to the “strategic responsibility of IRIN’s blue water”. In any case, once the Shahid Soleimani completes its long period of sea trials, the new class of ships could provide the IRGC Navy with important new capabilities, namely the longer-range deployment of missile boats, anti-ship/anti-aircraft missiles and drones. Coupled with the converted Shahid Roudaki and Shahid Mahdavi mother/supply ships, the new corvettes are likely to enable sustained IRGC Navy operations further into the Indian Ocean and possibly beyond, including support to smaller, more secret speedboat missions.
Of course, the overall capabilities of the IRGC Navy still fall far short of America’s, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Still, its modest progress toward sustained operations in blue waters is undeniable, and there are a number of scenarios in which it could pose a significant threat to US Navy assets and installations. Iran could also seek to project its naval power in the eastern Mediterranean and escort cargo ships.
Accordingly, the United States and its partners should closely examine the evolving role of the IRGC Navy and the development of new systems. This is especially true today because Iran’s domestic industrial base is gradually beginning to catch up and provide appropriate platforms and associated subsystems, whether building them from scratch or converting and reassigning merchant ships.