Why Iran's Submarines Are Bad News for America
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By Mark Episkopos, The National Interest
In yet another milestone on Tehran’s path to becoming a self-sustaining regional power, Iranian state news announced the Iranian Navy has commissioned its first homemade submarine.
The new Fateh-class vessel was unveiled by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani late last week, at a ceremony held at the Bandar Abbas naval base.
Iranian Defence Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami noted that “The Fateh (“conqueror”) submarine is completely homegrown and has been designed and developed by capable experts of the Marine Industries [Organization] of the Defence Ministry and enjoys [the] world’s modern technologies.”
To the extent that Tehran has leveraged its limited resources to domestically produce a modern submarine, the achievement is a symbolic step on Iran’s path to military self-sufficiency.
President Rouhani captured the triumphal mood in Tehran: “we will not bow down before the hegemon. We are ready to sacrifice ourselves and shed our blood to protect Iran.”
But while the Iranian military have made it abundantly clear that they possess a homegrown submarine, Fateh’s performance and reliability are another matter altogether. Specifically, quantifiable details are hard to come by, and what little we do know is filtered directly through Iranian state media. Fateh has a displacement tonnage (vessel weight) of 600 tons, placing it in what Iranian and western outlets have called a “semi-heavy” submarine category. Between Iran’s midget Ghadir-class submarines and heavy Kilo-class Yunes vesel, the Fateh class is designed to balance firepower with maneuverability; it can operate for five weeks at a submerged depth of 200 meters
According to Iranian news sources, Fateh is a “state-of-the-art” vessel equipped with “sonar, electric drive, combined battle management, surface-to-surface guided missile guidance, torpedo guidance, electronic and telecommunication warfare, secure and integrated telecommunication systems.” “State-of-the-art” is a curious way to describe the standard feature package of modern military submarines; still, a key part of Fateh’s weapons suite remains shrouded in mystery.
It has been known for some time that Fateh vessels will carry four 533mm torpedoes with two more in reserve, as well as eight naval mines. Iranian sources have provided much less concrete information on Fateh’s onboard cruise missiles, which can allegedly be fired from a submerged position. Coming in at less than 50 meters in length and with a small frame to boast, it remains to be seen how many, and exactly what types of cruise missiles can be crammed into the vessel. Also unclear is whether some or all of its six onboard torpedoes will have to be rotated out to accommodate the cruise missiles in question.
The Fateh submarine launches hot on the heels of Iran’s first domestically-produced destroyer, Sahand, commissioned several months ago. This submarine will be deployed to the Persian Gulf, with apparent plans to embark on future missions to the Oman Sea.
Tehran has yet to specify how many vessels the Fateh class will consist of. There appears to be at least one other Fateh submarine in production, but details are exceedingly scant.
While Iran’s current roster of 33 submarines seems formidable by its sheer size, a significant portion of these are aging North Korean and Russian imports.
Certain technical questions notwithstanding, the inauguration of the Fateh class suggests that Iran is moving ahead with its Naval modernization program despite the economic strain of a longstanding western sanctions regime.
Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and serves as research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University. This first appeared last year.
Image: Creative Commons.