« Whew! No new House seats | Main | The other side of childhood »

Motion Denied

Recently, someone in a comment (I've misplaced the actual link) questioned just how much of a military threat Iran can be to the United States. The question was intended to be rhetorical -- the short answer is "not much" -- but it brought up some things I've been thinking about for some time.

I tend to collect aphorisms and observations and notions, keeping the ones that I find worthy and applicable to the world at large. A don't have a definitive list of them written down or typed up anywhere, but they tend to bubble up as needed. And several come to mind that help capture the complexities of an open military confrontation between the US and Iran.

The first I stole from this book. It's a satire about Vermont seceding from the Union. Their strategy for resistance is something they call "The Polecat Principle" -- summed up as "we're more trouble than we are worth." It boils down to "yeah, we're a pain in your butt, but we'd be an even bigger pain if you try to stop us, so you'd be better off leaving us alone."

The second one that strikes me as especially apt is an aphorism that evolved in the US Navy during the Tanker War phase of the Iran-Iraq War. Iran started mining the Straits of Hormuz, threatening a full 40% of the world's oil supply. The United States chose then to intervene, as a freedom-of-the-seas issue, and began reflagging and escorting oil tankers. Official estimates say 546 civilian ships were damaged or lost to Iranian mines, and the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts was nearly sunk. The Navy -- which had let its mine-sweeping capabilities slack a bit -- revived an old phrase that had been around for decades, but fallen into disuse: "any ship can be a minesweeper -- once."

The Navy was reminded of this in 1991, during Desert Storm. The cruiser USS Princeton was badly damaged -- nearly sunk, in fact -- by two mines off the coast of Kuwait.

It is worth noting that the US Navy has only come close to losing a warship three times since Viet Nam. In addition to the Stark and the Roberts, the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. The weapon then was a boat loaded with a huge bomb underneath -- in essence, a manned, self-propelled mine.

A third one I lifted from a Tom Clancy novel -- I think "Executive Orders." A naval officer is explaining to a government leader (I think an Indian officer and a Communist Chinese official) the difference between the United States Navy and pretty much every other navy in the world -- mainly, aircraft carriers. "A frigate can protect, but a carrier can project." The idea is that both types of vessels -- regular combatants and carrier task forces -- create a "bubble" around them where they hold control. But the area dominated by a carrier battle group is larger by several orders of magnitude.

How does all this tie together? Because yeah, Iran can't defeat the United States Navy in any direct confrontation. But they don't need to. They can't take and hold the Straits of Hormuz, but they are more than capable of denying it to everyone.

The flashy way is anti-ship missiles, and they have plenty of those -- mainly Chinese-made Silkworm missiles, a development of the Soviet-era Styx ship-killer. The Silkworm isn't a huge threat to modern warships -- we have developed some pretty good countermeasures against them -- but against civilian targets (such as, say, great big tankers filled with highly flammable oil or highly explosive natural gas), they can cause a world of hurting.

But those, as I said, are flashy. They are instantly identifiable as a direct attack, and invite retaliation. I suspect the first salvo of Silkworms Iran fired into the Gulf would also be the last, as the US would flatten every known launch site within a few hours.

And then there are mines.

Mines are sneakier. You lay the mines quietly, then sit back and wait for them to start taking their toll. They are almost impossible to conclusively trace back to their source, and they can do a lot more damage than a missile -- as the Navy also likes to say, "you sink a ship by making holes that let in water, not holes that let in air."

And just how would Iran deploy those mines? Well, they have a lot of ships that go through the Straits already. It doesn't take too much effort to modify a ship into an ad hoc minelayer.

Further, Iran possesses three Russian-built Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines, that can carry about two dozen mines. There's little more sneakier than a sub when it comes to minelaying.

Let me repeat one very important point I said above: 40% of the world's oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz. And Iran -- if so inclined -- can make that 21-mile-wide stretch of water a very, very dangerous place.

That's the threat they pose, the stinky part of "the polecat principle:" if we push them too far, back them into a corner, they can throttle back -- or even choke off -- almost half the world's oil supply. They can't do it indefinitely, but they can wreak havoc with the world's economy for some time.

And it's something that is seldom talked about, but must always be kept in mind when dealing with Iran.

With the addition of the information on the USS Cole, I note that my posting now adds up to precisely 911 words. I could not have done that if I had intended to, and it strikes me as a very odd coincidence.


TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/24204.

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Motion Denied:

» Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator linked with War Of Anti-War, Pro-War Protesters

Comments (31)

Standby for the "renowned" ... (Below threshold)
marc:

Standby for the "renowned" military historian Hooson to counter your post with the most disjointed nonsense imaginable.

Because he knows somebody. Maybe even possess an Iranian mine as a war souvenir.

Iran has one refinery capab... (Below threshold)
kim:

Iran has one refinery capable of producing gasoline. You bomb it and wait for them to run out of gas. Then you stroll in with cans of gas and accept their surrenders.
===================================

Iran cannot possibly beat u... (Below threshold)

Iran cannot possibly beat us in a war but they certainly can take out a city or two as soon as they have nukes. I doubt that there's a shortage of people there who would willingly man one of those Kilos and sail it into one of several American harbors. Not a problem for me but a real problem for whoever happens to live in the city or cities targeted.

After the Gulf war, the US ... (Below threshold)
Jon:

After the Gulf war, the US Navy took a round turn in its Mine Warfare outlook. They established a mine warefare center in Ingleside, TX (it was supposed to be one of the places a CBG would be stationed in the '600 ship' Navy, but was repurposed after the SU fell, and two ships PRinceton and Tripoli were struck by Iraqi mines during Desert Shield/Storm.

One of the lessons I'd learned when I went to Mine Warfare School, is that Mine Warfare ain't sexy, and the US has a history of amping up MW after we get hit by a few mines, then lose our focus, and un-fund MW... Now, the MW center in Ingleside is on the BRAC list, and our MW ships are being decommed. There are still a few forward deployed to the gulf, but our ability to execute MW is getting tired.

Also MW is slow... even if you have a good idea of what's down there, to get rid of the mines without using a bunch of non-MW ships as sweepers, it takes a lot of time. A LOT of time. The enemy doesn't even have to use real mines, just be seen mine laying, and a big swath of ocean could be shut down, because of the apparent danger.

JayThey are someth... (Below threshold)
drjohn:

Jay

They are something of a threat to the US, but there are a lot of US assets within reach in the Middle East as well, not the least of which are the US bases in Iraq.

Iran won't use nukes in suc... (Below threshold)
jpm100:

Iran won't use nukes in such a situation only against cities, if at all. They will use nukes against our fleets. By deception, they just have to get close, not even anywhere near as close as the boat that damaged the Cole. Or they could use a remotely released & detonated atomic mine on the Gulf floor.

There's a reason we can't let Iran build nukes. And it has as much or more to do with protecting our conventional military as it does with cities.

Diplomacy is the art of ... (Below threshold)
_Mike_:

Diplomacy is the art of saying "Nice doggie" while reaching for a stick.

Iran won't confront the U.S. (i.e. the civilized world) directly until such time as it feels it can pose a direct threat (i.e. nuclear) to the U.S. I'd be surprised at any direct confrontations (naval or otherwise) until that point. However, I do believe that Iran has and continues to take actions against the U.S. covertly and through proxies.

The threat posed by Iran as a nuclear power is so undeniable that recently even the French (via their Foreign minister) has stated that military action against Iran is definitely on the table, so to say.

B-b-but we can't have a war... (Below threshold)
minivan-driving soccer mom Democrat:

B-b-but we can't have a war for oil! You're just a big-business war-mongering deathbot greedhead. Oil is stinky global-warming ka ka. And as soon as the Strait of Hormuz is shut down I'll start whining about how I can't afford $7/gal gas, or how food now costs almost twice as much and just about everything else has shot up in price.

"Hormuz Closed, Poor And Minorities Hardest Hit" will be a truthful headline.

Uhh...right. If iran tries... (Below threshold)
moseby:

Uhh...right. If iran tries anything flagrant (like nukes) against us or our interests in the mideast (Iraq or Israel to name a few) and their future will be "bright", followed by many years of radioactive decay.

Are ya'll old enough to rem... (Below threshold)
Mark:

Are ya'll old enough to remember when they killed our Marines in Lebanon? Or seized our embassy and kept everyone for a year. These are minor. Imagine they day that Israel is flattened. Which is the repeatdly stated Goal of radical Islamists. New York city obviously would work for them too....

That's the threat they p... (Below threshold)
Matt:

That's the threat they pose, the stinky part of "the polecat principle:" if we push them too far, back them into a corner, they can throttle back -- or even choke off -- almost half the world's oil supply. They can't do it indefinitely, but they can wreak havoc with the world's economy for some time.

Since the world economy has become very globalized and very controlled by various agencies and corporations, cutting off 40% of the oild supply, even for a couple of weeks would be a very dangerous gambit for IRAN. Nobody wants to confront Iran directly over the Nukes, but they would be more than happy to slap them around because of the loss of Oil. A Nuke launch and detonation would only affect the launching country, the impacted country and maybe one or two others. Cutting off 40% of the oil would affect their neighbors and many others. The world woudln't stand for it.

Best way to deal with this is to bottle Iran up. Target forces they might have in other countries and quietly target offensive military capabilities. Consider ways and means to counter the possiblity of mine threats. Consider destroying their submarines.

Ho, ho, ho. Kerry met in D... (Below threshold)
kim:

Ho, ho, ho. Kerry met in Davod with Iranian politicians. Let's watch the Democrats try to bottle him up. Now I'm beginning to see why he thought the Betray Us ad was over the top. I wonder if he knew about the Nerve Gas accident in Northwest Syria and the Israeli takeout of North Korean nuclear efforts in Northeast Syria, all recently.
================

Iran is developing the Shah... (Below threshold)

Iran is developing the Shahab-4 missile, which will be capable of putting satellites into orbit.

That is, the missile will be capable of orbiting over any part of the planet.

The Iranian regime has said they have stopped work on this program, but then again they would say that, wouldn't they.

Right, Ken, the moon wasn't... (Below threshold)
kim:

Right, Ken, the moon wasn't the point of the original space race; it was developing ICBMs capable of moving large bombs long distances but suborbitally. The same rocket could orbit small satellites.
===================================

James Lewis at the American... (Below threshold)
kim:

James Lewis at the American Thinker about North Korea, Syria, Iran and the recent WMD incidents in Syria. He believes Iran is facing a political and diplomatic crisis.
==========================

We won't take out their ref... (Below threshold)

We won't take out their refinery - it would devastate the country's economy, and punish its people for an unacceptable period for the fanatical regime. They have lived for more than a generation under the mad mullahs, and are not reflexively anti-Western.

However, since Iran imports roughly one-third of its gasoline because of their limited refining capacity, a cut-off of those supplies could bring the regime down. This is the ideal solution, and the only permanent one. Anything else is like applying calamine lotion to chicken pox - just treating the symptom, and not the disease.

Bullwinkle:I do... (Below threshold)
marc:

Bullwinkle:

I doubt that there's a shortage of people there who would willingly man one of those Kilos
You've chosen the correct name for yourself, because your knowledge base on the capabilities of the Kilo Class sub is on the same level as Jay Ward's creation.

And your brain operates as if you live in Frostbite Falls. IT's Frozen.

The Kilo class isn't nuc capable, in fact the only weapons it carries are torpodes, 8 SA-N-8 Gremlin or SA-N-10 Gimlet for air defense and can lay anti-ship mines.

In addition the 3 Iran have are under 24/7/365 day a year surveillance and in the event of hostilities between the U.S. and Iran all 3 would be smoking hulks before ever casting off lines to go to sea.

marcThe Kilo cl... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

marc

The Kilo class isn't nuc capable, in fact the only weapons it carries are torpodes, 8 SA-N-8 Gremlin or SA-N-10 Gimlet for air defense and can lay anti-ship mines.

In addition the 3 Iran have are under 24/7/365 day a year surveillance and in the event of hostilities between the U.S. and Iran all 3 would be smoking hulks before ever casting off lines to go to sea.

I think you may have misunderstood Bullwinkle. The sub doesn't have to have the capability to launch a nuke. All they have to do is find a way to cram one onboard and sneak into a U.S. harbor. Hell, they don't even have to destroy a city. Imagine the panic and chaos that would happen if a nuke went off merely within sight of American shores. World markets, world economy, world trade etc.. would all take a nosedive.

All you need is a nuke that fits into a sub (or a cargo ship or any ship) and a kamikazi crew to float it close to America or an American outpost or a Western ally. It's not that far-fetched.

How we keep the crazies from getting their hands on a nuke, forever, ...I don't know. Yeah, we'll get our revenge on them, or turn the middle east into glass, or kill half the planet; but our country and the entire world will be plunged into horrible chaos, too.

LN:I think you... (Below threshold)
marc:

LN:

I think you may have misunderstood Bullwinkle. The sub doesn't have to have the capability to launch a nuke. All they have to do is find a way to cram one onboard and sneak into a U.S. harbor.

I didn't misunderstand anything, he's flat out wrong. And you're on shaky ground as well.

What is it about being under 24/7/365 days a year surveillance do you not understand? They would never be able to place one onboard if they could and even in that worst case it would never leave the pier.

BTW, better look up a Kilo's maximum endurance range, it isn't close to being able to reach any west coast city.

I agree the people of Iran ... (Below threshold)
kim:

I agree the people of Iran are ripe for regime change. The refinery will go first if we decide to invade for regime change; gasoline can be supplied by tankers and trucks, but won't be attacked if there are some sort of directed strikes at the nuclear capability. Fortunately, it seems that Iran has found a foolish proxy in Syria to mess with the most outrageous stuff.
============================

I'll agree with marc that t... (Below threshold)
SCSIwuzzy:

I'll agree with marc that the Kilo's aren't really much of a threat. A cargo ship is more likely to slip past the eyes in the sky and ears in the water and get something nasty from Iran to the US than a diesel sub.

" I didn't misunderstand an... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

" I didn't misunderstand anything, he's flat out wrong. And you're on shaky ground as well.

What is it about being under 24/7/365 days a year surveillance do you not understand? They would never be able to .."

If you say so, it must be so. Never is a long time, though.

" BTW, better look up a Kilo's maximum endurance range, it isn't close to being able to reach any west coast city. "

That's good news; I'll take your word for it.

I wonder what a blast near Honolulu would do for the world.

LN:If you say ... (Below threshold)
marc:

LN:

If you say so, it must be so. Never is a long time, though.

First thing you've come close to saying that is true.

First of all Kilos won't last to "never." In fact the first two that were delivered from russia were configured for cold weather, (mighty COLD up there in the northern russian fleet in Vlad) not much of that near Iran. Dumb shits in Iran didn't know the difference and couldn't figure out why their new weapon couldn't stay submerged more than a hour without craping itself.

Funny that.

Not so funny how I know. In fact when you spend 20 years in the navy its gets to be a royal pain in the ass when you spend an inordinate amount of the time cutting circles in the Gulf of Aden tracking the Iranians little piece of shit.

It gets tedious pouring over sat photos (ya know from the 24/7/265 day a year thing) for the latest boondoggle the Iranians are trying with there 25 year old toy.

That's good news; I'll take your word for it.

I doubt it, but you done'y have too. But apparently you're too lazy to use the net you're currently making a fool of yourself on to take the time to research even the very basic facts of the Iranian navy and its capabilities.

I wonder what a blast near Honolulu would do for the world.

I don't know, you've set yourself up as the expert[in your own mind]. You tell us.

It would be difficult to sn... (Below threshold)
SPQR:

It would be difficult to sneak a Kilo to one of the coasts of the United States given the surveillance. And the method by which a diesel-electric submarine would have to do such a long transit would certainly not make it harder. But it is not impossible.

Reports on the endurance of the Kilo class vary, one example article is this discussion of Kilo's sold to China.

Endurance: 45 day; 6,000 miles with snorkel (@7 knots); 400 miles submerged (@3 knots); 12.7 miles at full run (@21 knots)

According to the FAS, Kilos designated Project 636 with longer endurance specs than those above have been sold to China

"would certainly not make i... (Below threshold)
SPQR:

"would certainly not make it harder." should have read "would certainly make it harder."

marc Lighten ... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

marc

Lighten up, Francis.

You seem to have taken some extra 'pissy pills' before commenting on this post. I agree with you on some things, and yet you take it as if I did not agree with you on those things. Maybe you should have spent less time looking at pictures and learned how to read. For example, when I said "That's good news; I'll take your word for it." , what I meant was:

1.That's good news

followed by

2. I'll take your word that what you said was truthful.

that's all.

Ah, I don't want to argue. You are right. With 24/7/365 surveillance, there is a zero percent chance that any sub, boat, ship, barge, cargo ship or sailboat will ever set sail with such nasty cargo from Iran. What could possibly go wrong?

SPQR: "But it is not impossible."
Oh, yeah? I don't know, you've set yourself up as the expert[in your own mind]. You tell us.

Sorry, just anticipating what a certain someone's response to you might be.

There may be other problems... (Below threshold)
LaMedusa:

There may be other problems when dealing with Iran:

US gambles on Iran's 'soldiers of terror'

"WASHINGTON - The White House's plan to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization could deal a double blow to efforts to use diplomacy with Iran to stabilize Iraq.

Not only would the designation risk undermining the important yet limited talks between the United States and Iran in Baghdad, but it might also negatively impact the next US president's ability to seek diplomacy with Tehran by further entrenching US-Iran relations in a paradigm of enmity. "

US is stretched too thin, top general worries

"WASHINGTON - US forces are stretched perilously thin from the Middle East to Northeast Asia, and top-level US military planners are trying to do something before yet another conflict flares up beyond the strength and ability of the Pentagon to do anything about it.

That's the central message of General George W Casey Jr, installed as army chief of staff in April after nearly three years as commander of US forces in Iraq and just back from another quick look at the country."

LN:Ah, I don't... (Below threshold)
marc:

LN:

Ah, I don't want to argue. You are right. With 24/7/365 surveillance, there is a zero percent chance that any sub, boat, ship, barge, cargo ship or sailboat will ever set sail with such nasty cargo from Iran. What could possibly go wrong?

Sure you do, you proved that with your first response to my first comment. Remind me what the topic was.... oh yeah subs, why drag "boat, ship, barge, cargo ship or sailboats" into it?

If it were anything in the Gulf it would be via a Dhow but given your demonstrated lack of knowledge I doubt you know what that is, AND not bother to find out if you respond as you did about Kilo capabilities.

Yep, Iran could be a lot of... (Below threshold)

Yep, Iran could be a lot of trouble! Especially if they convince other Middle Eastern Islamic countries to be less moderate and more radical.

Sure is a great thing we're fighting a two-front war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yessir...great move there with that unneeded Iraq invasion. Heckuva job.

jimji:Yep, Ira... (Below threshold)
marc:

jimji:

Yep, Iran could be a lot of trouble! Especially if they convince other Middle Eastern Islamic countries to be less moderate and more radical.

And who might those"Middle Eastern Islamic countries" be in your estimation?

It was easy to say wasn't it? But much harder to come up with a valid list considering none would be willing to side with the nutcases in Tehran.

Israel is the main target i... (Below threshold)

Israel is the main target in any scenario in which Iran gets nukes. There's no need to natter about American cities at all, for this specific scenario.




Advertisements









rightads.gif

beltwaybloggers.gif

insiderslogo.jpg

mba_blue.gif

Follow Wizbang

Follow Wizbang on FacebookFollow Wizbang on TwitterSubscribe to Wizbang feedWizbang Mobile

Contact

Send e-mail tips to us:

[email protected]

Fresh Links

Credits

Section Editor: Maggie Whitton

Editors: Jay Tea, Lorie Byrd, Kim Priestap, DJ Drummond, Michael Laprarie, Baron Von Ottomatic, Shawn Mallow, Rick, Dan Karipides, Michael Avitablile, Charlie Quidnunc, Steve Schippert

Emeritus: Paul, Mary Katherine Ham, Jim Addison, Alexander K. McClure, Cassy Fiano, Bill Jempty, John Stansbury, Rob Port

In Memorium: HughS

All original content copyright © 2003-2010 by Wizbang®, LLC. All rights reserved. Wizbang® is a registered service mark.

Powered by Movable Type Pro 4.361

Hosting by ServInt

Ratings on this site are powered by the Ajax Ratings Pro plugin for Movable Type.

Search on this site is powered by the FastSearch plugin for Movable Type.

Blogrolls on this site are powered by the MT-Blogroll.

Temporary site design is based on Cutline and Cutline for MT. Graphics by Apothegm Designs.

Author Login



Terms Of Service

DCMA Compliance Notice

Privacy Policy