Q: The Iranian Navy’s recent maneuvering is being seen mainly as a symbolic show of force, with experts suggesting that the only real naval threat Iran poses is its ability to disrupt maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf (especially in the strategic Strait of Hormuz). How much trouble can the Iranians really cause in the Gulf?
A: Iran’s warships are operated by two distinct commands: the Iranian Navy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Naval Corps (IRGC). The former encompasses the larger, ocean-going ships, which now regularly deploy to the Indian Ocean and even the Atlantic Ocean, much along the lines of most traditional navies.
It is the IRGC forces, stationed largely near the Strait of Hormuz, which could pose danger for maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf. They have a substantial number — perhaps 20-40 — of patrol boats capable of carrying anti-ship missiles as well as mines. When used asymmetrically in what we call “swarm tactics,” a large group of them has a reasonable likelihood of being able to inflict some level of damage on merchant traffic in the Strait of Hormuz (a major artery of the global oil market). Given their speed and location, they could be within lethal range of the shipping lanes in a matter of minutes.
—Dr. Thomas Fedyszyn is a member of the U.S. Naval War College’s Naval Security Affairs faculty. He is the former U.S. Naval Attaché to Russia, Iran’s chief ally. A former surface warrior, he commanded the USS Normandy (CG 60) and USS William V. Pratt (DDG 44). As a leader within NATO’s Partnership for Peace Consortium, he is responsible for the Defense Education Enhancement Program (DEEP) in Azerbaijan. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins.