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Next-Gen Coastal Artillery

by Greg on April 27, 2010

That was then.

This is now.

Above, an Iranian produced version of the C-802 anti-ship missile, concealed inside a commercial truck, from Iran’s Great Prophet 5 military exercises.

Having puffed its chest mightily during the just concluded Great Prophet 5 exercises, Iran figured it would continue in that vein and issued another one of its periodic threats asserting it holds the keys to the Strait of Hormuz. Mohammad-Nabi Habibi, secretary-general of Iran’s conservative Islamic Coalition Party, put it rather artfully: “If America goes lunatic, the children of the nation in the Islamic Republic’s armed forces would choke the West’s throat at the Strait of Hormuz.”

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iran earlier this month, Joint Chiefs vice chair Gen. James Cartwright said if export-import dependant Iran brought Gulf shipping to a halt, they’d be choking themselves. The military leadership believes they could keep the Strait open, he added.

Some aren’t so sure. CSBA’s Andrew Krepinevich, in his report, “Why AirSea Battle?” (.pdf), says U.S. ships transiting the Gulf would face a “hornets nest” of Iranian precision weapons that can easily range the Strait, creating a potential maritime “no-go zone.” Iran is adding missiles to its “anti-access” arsenal and the Gulf’s geography favors the Iranians. For example, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy has tunneled into a cluster of islands near the Strait, building underground missile bunkers, what they call “static warships.”

Iran is thought to have several hundred anti-ship cruise missiles, including the very capable Chinese made CSS-N-2 Silkworm, with a range of 60 miles, and the CS-802 Saccade, with a range of 75 miles. Some hundreds of these missiles have been mounted on trucks. Looking at past U.S. truck hunting campaigns, 1991’s Scud missile hunt comes to mind, such weapons pose a potentially game changing challenge.

The Navy and Air Force are jointly working on a new warfighting concept called AirSea Battle intended to beat back Iranian, and of course Chinese, anti-access capabilities. To begin with, I’ll be very curious to hear how the concept defines access. Is it steaming through the Gulf in the face of Iranian anti-ship missiles or is it the ability to influence events on shore by accessing that shore?

Are traditional Marine Corps concepts of amphibious operations even operative in the face of the new generation of coastal artillery? If an enemy can dot a coastline with a few hundred missiles like the one below that can take out a small vessel or amtrac, is it even realistic to think about putting costly platforms within range of those missiles? What are the implications of these weapons on the Navy’s seabasing concept? Lots of questions in need of answers.

– Greg

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