U.S. 5th Fleet Navy ships are being harassed by Iranian patrol boats. There’s been three incidents in the last several days. In one encounter, a U.S. ship fired warning shots at an Iranian patrol boat with a .50 caliber machine gun to ward off a dangerous approach.
Could such naval skirmishes spark an all-out naval battle? I’d like to jog your memory about a similar incident of Iranian harassment of U.S. Navy ships… one that occurred on a much larger scale- Operation Velayat-90.
Velayat occurred in 2011 and almost led to a full-scale naval battle between Iran and the U.S. It began when Iranian submarines, warships and C 14 class missile boats tested their might in the Sea of Oman. The saber-rattling operation was considered a “war game” by the Iranian government.
Quite a “game” to play in the midst of U.S. warships. The Iranians laid anti-ship mines, auditioned their aerial drones, and fired missiles and torpedoes to show the world that they have the power to block oil from passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Their Navy's C 14 class missile boats test-fired the short range Nasr-1 anti-ship cruise missile to demonstrate their ability to destroy nearby American warships.
What if the Iranian patrol boats that are presently harassing U.S. Navy warships begin carrying the Yakhont (SSN-26) missile? This deadly supersonic anti-ship missile can easily destroy an aircraft carrier. The Russian’s delivered them to Syria years ago, despite pleas from the U.S. that they could be obtained by terrorists. Could this lead to an all-out naval battle between Iran and the U.S.?
Let me explain. As the situation in Syria deteriorates, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may create a distraction by surreptitiously supplying Hamas or another terrorist group with these weapons. What if, unbeknownst to Iran, an SSN-26 is launched by Hamas against an American aircraft carrier that frequents the Strait of Hormuz, like the USS Stennis or USS Abraham Lincoln? If Assad’s regime begins to crumble, a U.S./Iran showdown in the Strait of Hormuz would be to his benefit.
Getting back to the 2011 Operation Velayat-90. In addition to the “what if” trepidations, Iran’s bellicose words added further tension to the supposedly innocuous war games. Iran’s navy chief, Admiral Habibollah Sayari, said his forces were monitoring the USS Stennis and recorded its passage from the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf of Oman (Iranian TV segment showed the Stennis being followed by Iranian aircraft).
Sayari’s words were backed up by Brigadier General Hossein Salmi, the deputy commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards. He stated to the Fars news agency, “Our response to threats is threats. We have no doubt about our being able to carry out defensive strategies to protect our vital interests- we will act more decisively than ever. The Americans are not qualified to give us permission to carry out military strategy”.
The wording of Iran’s leaders is the most disturbing, for it shows their belief system at work. Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned, “Not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz” if the West follows through with additional sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Commodore Mahmoud Mousave of the Iranian navy stated the USS Stennis was “inside the maneuver zone” where his ships were conducting their exercises and added that his navy “was prepared, in accordance with international law, to confront offenders who do not respect our security perimeters during the maneuvers”.
The US Defense Department replied, “Interference with the transit of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz will not be tolerated and the US will act decisively to protect our interests”.
So, there we were, in 2012: The USS Stennis, one of the world’s largest warships, and her carrier strike group in the Strait of Hormuz in close proximity with the Iranian navy. What would happen if any number of direct or circuitous happenings spark an exchange between the two had occurred?
Let’s explore that possibility. If an Iranian Nasr-1 anti-ship missile went astray, the Stennis strike group would counter with RIM-7 Sea Sparrow anti-missiles, which defend against anti-ship missiles and have been vastly upgraded over the years. They’re larger, faster, more accurate and will zero in on sea-skimming missiles with 90 lbs. of blast fragmentation explosives in each warhead.
Meanwhile, the Stennis’ 90 fighter planes and helicopter gunships would be launched and commence strafing the Iranian warships and destroy the fleet. If the Stennis was hit, the entire Iranian fleet would be sunk immediately. The Iranian C 14 missile boats would attack, prompting the US fleet’s Phalanx CIWS, close-in weapon system, to light up the skyline firing its 20mm Gatling guns and filling up the sky with armor-piercing tungsten penetrator rounds traveling at 3,600 feet per second to the tune of 4,500 rounds per minute.
Iran’s missile boats would surely fire away and the incoming Iranian Nasr-1 missiles would, hopefully, be destroyed before reaching their target. At that point, the US fleet would be ordered to use the full force of their weaponry and all of Iran’s fleet would be destroyed.
Pure chaos would ensue after the spark began and America’s RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM) would be launched to further protect the Stennis flotilla. Scores of RAM’s screaming at Mach 2+ would maintain the retaliation and quickly find their marks.
The US would immediately leap from defensive to offensive weapons, for the stakes are too high, the earlier Iranian threats too warlike, and the Strait of Hormuz battle ground too cramped. With foes only a stone’s throw away, armed with supersonic weapons, it would be over at the speed of Mach 2+. Hopefully, the Iranian Navy and not the U.S. Pacific Fleet would descend into the depths of the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.
Such a short, concentrated, but deadly mêlée would only be the beginning. In 2010, the military hotline that Washington proposed between the White House and Tehran to defuse any “miscalculations” was rejected by Iran. I hope it’s back in use, for the war after the next one will be fought with sticks and stones.
Robert Morton, M.Ed., Ed.S. is a member of the Association Of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) and writes the online spy novel series "Corey Pearson- CIA Spymaster in the Caribbean". The views expressed on this site do not represent those of any organization he is a member of. Contact him on the Secure Contact Form