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Friday, April 21, 2006

A threat to the Navy?

The USS George Washington

Iran Attack: Potential Disaster for US Navy
by Steven D [Subscribe]

Thu Apr 20, 2006 at 10:18:19 AM PDT

Whether we attack Iran with tactical nukes or just the usual barrage of conventional bombs, our naval vessels located in the Persian Gulf will be at great risk. Why? Because Russia and China have been supplying Iran with the latest technology in anti-ship warfare: supersonic cruise missiles. Here are excerpts from a timeline compiled by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (an organization headed by Ted Turner and former Senator Sam Nunn) at their website:

28 January 2005

Two anti-ship missiles identified as the JJ/TL-6B, JJ/TL-10A and KJ/TL-10B, and designed by China for Iran, were displayed at the China Air Show in November 2004. Knowledgeable sources affirm that the missiles are identical to Iran's Nasr and Kosar, also known as the TL-6 and TL-10. Jane's Defense Weekly states that the FL-8 and FL-9 also represent previous designations for these missiles.
--"China Reported to Start Marketing of Missiles Designed for Iran," Middle East Newsline, 28 January 2005.

2 February 2005

Ukrainian Parliament member Hrihory Omelchenko claims that 12 Kh-55 [U.S. nomenclature is AS-15] air-to-ground missiles were exported between 1999 and 2001, half to Iran and half to China. These cruise missiles boast a highly accurate guidance system and a range of up to 3,000 km, putting Israel within striking distance of Iran. A former Ukrainian secret police (SBU) officer, Omelchenko says the SBU prevented an attempt to export 14 KH-55s last year and accused former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma of covering up the illicit arms sale.
--Tom Warner, "Ukraine 'Sold Cruise Missiles to Iran, China'," Financial Times, 3 February 2005.


31 March 2005

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko confirms that Iran acquired nuclear-capable missiles from Ukraine under the previous administration. He adds that the missiles were delivered unarmed using a forged contract listing Russia as the final destination. Oleksandr Turchinov, Ukraine's top security official, says that the investigation into the affair is complete and that the court is to announce its ruling "in a few days."
--"Report: Iran Has Bought Nuclear-Capable Missiles From Ukraine," Haaretz, 1 April 2005; "Security Chief Says Missile Smuggling Case Solved," Kyiv Post, 1 April 2005.


1 August 2005

According to Kanwa Defense Review, the China Shipping and Trading Company (CSTC) plans to sell Iran 10 "China-Cat" missile boats, which could be modified with the Iranian indigenous TL-10 or NOOR (C802) serial anti-ship missile system. . .
"Kanwa: China Exports OPVs to Thailand, Iran; Iran's Plan Described," Kanwa Defense Review, 1 August 2005, in FBIS Document CPP20050803000124.

A Wikipedia article also lists Iran as a rumored customer for Russia's Moskit supersonic cruise missile. The Moskit is also known by it's NATO designation as the Sunburn, a missile technology that Russia has also sold to China. Here is a description of the characteristics of the version most likely to be deployed against US forces in the Gulf:

The 3M82 "Mosquito" missiles have the fastest flying speed among all antiship missiles in today's world. It reaches Mach 3 at a high altitude and its maximum low-altitude speed is M2.2, triple the speed of the American Harpoon. When slower missiles, like the French Exocet are used, the maximum theoretical response time for the defending ship is 150-120 seconds. This provides time to launch countermeasures and employ jamming before deploying "hard" defense tactics such as launching missiles and using quick-firing artillery. But the 3M82 "Mosquito" missiles are extremely fast and give the defending side a maximum theoretical response time of merely 25-30 seconds, rendering it extremely difficult employ jamming and countermeasures, let alone fire missiles and quick-firing artillery.

Even worse, some experts are claiming that, at present the US Navy has no effective defense against such supersonic cruise missiles:

No US defense vs supersonic cruise missiles

The US and UK aircraft carrier battle groups do not have any known defense against the new supersonic missiles of their adversaries. The Phalanx and Aegis ship defense systems may be effective against subsonic cruise missiles like the Exocets or Tomahawks, or exo-atmospheric ballistic missiles, but they are inadequate against the sea-skimming and supersonic Granits, Moskits and Yakhonts or similar types (Shipwreck, Sunburn and Onyx - North Atlantic Treaty Organization codenames) of modern anti-ship missiles in China's inventory.

Not only China and Russia have these modern cruise missiles, so do[es] Iran. . . These missiles can be delivered by SU-27 variants, SU-30s, Tu22M Blackjacks, Bears, J6s, JH-7/As, H-6Hs, J-10s, surface ships, diesel submarines or common trucks.

So what do we know? Iran has likely acquired cruise missiles with speeds up to 3 times faster than current American anti-ship cruise missiles. The ones it has likely acquired from the Ukraine have a range of up to 3000 kilometers. It probably also has a number of shorter range supersonic cruise missiles (we can't be certain of exactly how many) to augment its inventory of slower Silkworm cruise missiles (the Silkworm is a Chinese variant of the French Exocet). And even these slower Silkworms can be very dangerous to our naval forces as demonstrated by the 1987 incident involving an Iraqi Exocet missile attack against the USS Stark:

. . . At 10:10 PM, the AWACS crew noticed that the Mirage had banked suddenly and then turned northward, as though heading for home. What they failed to detect was the launching by the Iraqi pilot of two Exocet AM39 air-to-surface missiles. The Exocets had a range of 40 miles and each carried a 352 lb. warhead. For some reason, the sea-skimming missiles were not detected by the Stark's sophisticated monitoring equipment. A lookout spotted the first Exocet just seconds before the missile struck, tearing a ten-by-fifteen-foot hole in the warship's steel hull on the port side before ripping through the crew's quarters. The resulting fire rushed upward into the vessel's combat information center, disabling the electrical systems. The second missile plowed into the frigate's superstructure.

Imagine these cruise missiles being deployed in mass attacks against our ships in the Gulf, and against oil tanker traffic (the reason our ships would be in the Gulf in the first place). The chance of incidents much worse than the one that happened to the USS Stark becomes greatly magnified. Unless we know the location of these cruise missiles and can take them out before they are launched, our sailors will be at tremendous risk in the event of a shooting war with Iran.

Furthermore, any such conflict with Iran will be a classic example of asymmetric warfare: Iran's array of relatively inexpensive cruise missiles against very expensive US Carriers and their equally expensive missile defense system, the US Fleet's complement of Aegis Missile Cruisers. We know that the Aegis is very efective against traditional, limited Exocet-type cruise missile attacks. However, American defenses have never been tested against large scale mass attacks from cruise missiles, which, in Iran's case, will include some missiles traveling at the sea skimming speed of more than double the speed of sound.

Instead of speeds of 300 to 400 mph (i.e., the Silkworm/Exocet class of cruise missiles), they'll be racing at our ships at speeds of 1200 mph or more. That's faster than a rifle bullet. And behind them will be additional waves of Iran's slower Silkworms. Add in the risk from mines and the possibility of attacks by Iranian ballistic missiles as well, and the window of time in which to defeat all of these threats grows very tight indeed.

If we attack Iran, Bush and Rumsfeld will be essentially betting that our Navy can fend off whatever missile and/or other attacks Iran can muster against our massive Carrier groups. And perhaps they will be right. Perhaps our defenses will be more than adequate to prevent the catastrophe of one or more US Carriers being sunk by Iranian forces. However, based on this Administration's track record, would you be willing to bet the lives of our sailors that they'll get it right this time?

posted by Steve @ 12:23:00 AM

12:23:00 AM

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