Iran Launches Large-Scale Naval Drill Near Strait of Hormuz

Courtesy Iranian state media

By The Maritime Executive 02-22-2019 03:01:19

The Iranian Navy is conducting an unusually large-scale drill in the Persian Gulf this weekend, with activity centered on the Strait of Hormuz. Similar exercises have occurred before, but these are the first to feature sub-launched cruise missiles, and they come against a backdrop of new Iranian threats to shut down the waterway.

According to Rear Am. Hossein Khanzadi, the service's top officer, the three day exercise is intended to prepare Iran's Navy for external threats, assess its equipent and preparedness, and "display power." The drills include sailing in formation, defense against amphibious assault, amphibious warfare, ship-based live fire missile launches, torpedo exercises, and drone reconnaissance activities, among others. 

Two of Iran's newer warships, the submarine Fateh and the first Sahand-class frigate, are participating in the exercise. The Fateh was formally commissioned earlier this week, and is said to be capable of carrying cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles, making it the first vessel of its kind in Iran's fleet. Submarine-based missile launches will be part of this week's exercise.  

The drill comes against the backdrop of rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to shipping in retaliation for American sanctions; if successfully carried out, this would shut one of the world's busiest waterways for tanker traffic. 

Close encounters

In years past, attack boats belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps often made close approaches to U.S. Navy vessels, prompting radio warnings, diplomatic protests and (occasionally) warning shots from American vessels. In recent comments to media, U.S. Fifth Fleet Commander Vice Adm. James Malloy criticized the professionalism of Iran's naval forces.  

“Their activities at sea are inherently destabilising because of how they react to other ships,” he said. “I remain prudent and cautious when I’m operating in the vicinity of the Iranians because I don’t know whether it’s just poor seamanship or it’s an intent to harass. But either one is unsafe and we are prepared to defend against them.”

Iran has described its activities near the Strait of Hormuz as defensive in nature, but Malloy suggested otherwise. “The rhetoric that they [use] - ‘we will close the Gulf, we will close the strait’ - and the exercises that they engage in are inherently offensive in nature," Adm. Malloy said. 

For his part, Iran's Rear Adm. Khanzadi has made clear that he views the U.S. Navy as an unwanted visitor in the Gulf. “It is time to expel the outsiders from the region because this region does not need their presence at all,” he said Sunday.