Category Archives: Iran

A T-55 ‘Enigma’

Hanging out at the Bovington Tank Museum is a much-modded Russian (Soviet)-built T-55 tank that was used at one time by Poland during the Warsaw Pact days as it was upgraded to a T-55K command tank. Shipped to Iraq during Saddam’s-era, it has been converted with the addition of add-on armor up front and ballast blocks on the rear to balance it out.

Reportedly, it could survive Iranian TOW missiles and Milan strikes.

Apache Junction

Back at the hottest part of the Iran-Iraq Tanker War in 1987-89, Operation Prime Chance saw Army SOAR Little Birds and OH-58s deploying from FFGs as well as two leased Brown & Root crane barges dubbed Mobile Sea Base Hercules and Mobile Sea Base Wimbrown 7. Set-up in the Northern Persian Gulf, the latter supported eight MkIII 65-foot patrol boats and an array of Army AH-64D Longbow Apaches, Navy Seahawks for C-SAR while they were protected by Marine air defense units to pop interloping low-flying tangos.

An aerial view of the leased barge Hercules with three PB Mark III patrol boats and the tugboat Mister John H tied up alongside. The barge is part of Operation Prime Chance, supporting U.S. Navy efforts to provide security for U.S.-flagged shipping in the Persian Gulf. 1 January 1989 Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Smith DNST8908773

Fast forward to 2020 and the concept is fully fleshed out some 30 years later with the 78,000-ton purposely-built expeditionary mobile base vessels of the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3) class.

USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) employs a flight deck for helicopter operations. ESB 3 is able to carry at least four MH-53E helicopters or five Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit Military Vans and still have room to maneuver and store other equipment.

Puller has a dozen weapon stations (think M2 .50 cals) to protect against small boats, and the ability to support at least four CH-53-sized helicopters and 300 mission crew.

Recently, Puller showcased Task Force Saber, an Army AH-64 unit, which caused a lot of interest from Iranian Revolutionary Guard guys last week.

Official caption: Soldiers of Task Force Saber conduct rotary-wing deck landing operations with the U.S. Navy onboard the USS Lewis B. Puller in the Persian Gulf April 15-16, 2020. Task Force Saber utilized the USS Puller as a maritime base to practice launching rotary-wing assets. (U.S. Army video by Sgt. Trevor Cullen):

Nipping at the heels

Apparently taking the sidelining of the Teddy Roosevelt carrier battlegroup in Guam and the Ronald Reagan group in Japan during the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis as the blood trail of a wounded beast, Iran, China, and Russia are sniffing around and flexing a bit where the U.S. is forward-deployed.

WestPac

China’s six-ship Liaoning carrier group (Liaoning along with two type 052D guided-missile destroyers – the Xining and Guiyang – two type 054A guided-missile frigates – the Zaozhuang and Rizhao – and a type 901 combat support ship, the Hulunhu) passed through the tense Miyako Strait, between Okinawa and Taiwan, over the weekend, under the eyes of various JMSDF, U.S. and ROC assets.

Chinese carrier ‘Liaoning with escorts. Photos via Chinese Internet

Further, as reported by the South China Morning Post: “On Thursday [9 Apr], an H-6 bomber, J-11 fighter and KJ-500 reconnaissance plane from the PLA Air Force flew over southwestern Taiwan and on to the western Pacific where they followed a US RC-135U electronic reconnaissance aircraft.”

Of note, the ROC Army has sent some of their aging but still very effective M60A3 tanks out into public in recent days in what was announced a pre-planned exercise. Still, when you see an MBT being camouflaged in the vacant lot down the block, that’s a little different.

Photo via Taiwan’s Military News Agency (MNA)

Note the old KMT cog emblem. Taiwan’s Military News Agency (MNA)

Very discrete. Taiwan’s Military News Agency (MNA)

Meanwhile, in the Arabian Gulf

A series of 11 Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels on Wednesday (15 April 15) buzzed the expeditionary platform USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), and her escorts, the destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), the 170-foot Cyclone-class patrol craft USS Firebolt (PC 10) and USS Sirocco (PC 6), and two 110-foot Island-class Coast Guard cutters, USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332) and USCGC Maui (WPB 1304), while the U.S. vessels were conducting operations with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters.

The below footage seems to be from the running bridge of one of the Coast Guard 110s, likely Maui from reports, and you can see what the Navy terms a Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC), armed with a heavy machine gun with a deck guy’s hands on the spades.

The IRGCN fields hundreds of such 30- to 50-foot fast boats, armed with a variety of rockets, machine guns, and small mines, and have been the organization’s bread and butter since the early 1980s.

For reference

As noted by the 5th Fleet:

The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller with a 50 yard closest point of approach (CPA) and within 10 yards of Maui’s bow.

The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long-range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response from the IRGCN.

After approximately one hour, the IRGCN vessels responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, then maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened the distance between them.

ARABIAN GULF (April 15, 2020) Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels conducted unsafe and unprofessional actions against U.S. military ships by crossing the ships’ bows and sterns at close range while operating in international waters of the north Arabian Gulf. U.S. forces are conducting joint interoperability operations in support of maritime security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Potomu chto ya byl perevernut

Not to feel left out, 6th Fleet reports (emphasis mine) that a Syrian-based Russian Flanker-E came out over the Med to buzz a P-8:

On April 15, 2020, a U.S. P-8A Poseidon aircraft flying in international airspace over the Mediterranean Sea was intercepted by a Russian SU-35. The interaction was determined to be unsafe due to the SU-35 conducting a high-speed, inverted maneuver, 25 ft. directly in front of the mission aircraft, which put our pilots and crew at risk. The crew of the P-8A reported wake turbulence following the interaction. The duration of the intercept was approximately 42 minutes.

While the Russian aircraft was operating in international airspace, this interaction was irresponsible. We expect them to behave within international standards set to ensure safety and to prevent incidents, including the 1972 Agreement for the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA). Unsafe actions‎ increase the risk of miscalculation and the potential for midair collisions.

The U.S. aircraft was operating consistent with international law and did not provoke this Russian activity.

Loaded for bear, or asymmetric warfare, either way

Nice loadout on this Zulu Cobra for littoral warfare in The Strait: M197 3-barreled 20mm gun (with 750 rounds likely loaded), a four-pack of Hellfire missiles for big boats, a seven-cell LAU-68C/A APKWS rocket pod for small boats, a drop tank for extra loiter, and a pair of AIM-9X Sidewinders for the possible random IRIAF F-5 or F-4 that wants to get muscular.

Also, note the Marine LAV-25 on the lookout. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck/Released)

Official caption: “STRAIT OF HORMUZ (Aug. 12, 2019) An AH-1Z Viper helicopter attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) takes off during a strait transit aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and the 11th MEU are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the Western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points.”

 

Splash one drone in the SOH

Back in my slimmer days, I used to crawl around at Ingalls in Pascagoula as part of the long-running effort to put flesh against steel to produce warships. One of the hulls that I worked on during that period was USS Boxer, to include getting underway on her during builder’s trials. With that being said, LHD-4 carved herself an interesting footnote in the annals of modern asymmetric warfare last week.

The Pentagon reported Friday that she splashed an unidentified Iranian drone (labeled by multiple analysts as a Mohajer-4B Sadegh) in the Strait of Hormuz that came inside the ship’s defense bubble while a WSJ writer onboard reported an Iranian helicopter and small craft came almost as close. 

The ship, with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked, has had Marines positioned topside with their light vehicles arrayed on her flight deck so they could bear crew-served weapons on low-key targets if needed. It was apparently one of the lightest of these, a Polaris MRZR 4×4, that was used to pop the drone.

A what?

The little brown thing on Boxer’s deck in the below image.

190718-M-EC058-1558 STRAIT OF HORMUZ (July 18, 2019) A UH-1Y Venom helicopter assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) during a strait transit. The Boxer Amphibious Ready Group and the 11th MEU are deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton Swanbeck/Released)

Outfitted with a Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS) system, the go-cart-sized vehicle killed the Iranian UAV via aggressive freq interference.

An LMADIS operated by the 22nd MEU on the flight deck of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD-3) in May. The system was developed specifically to combat the weaponized commercial drone development. It is equipped with state-of-the-art sensors, optics to track and monitor targets at extensive ranges, and capabilities to physically disable a UAS on approach.

1st Lt. Taylor Barefoot, a low altitude air defense officer with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 163 (Reinforced), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, programs a counter-unmanned aircraft system on a Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS) during a pre-deployment training exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Nov. 13, 2018. The LMADIS is a maneuverable, ground-based system, mounted to a Polaris MRZR that can detect, identify and defeat drones with an electronic attack. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Dalton S. Swanbeck)

Of course, the Iranians, in their best Baghdad Bob Act, said they recovered their drone safe and sound and they have the video to prove it. 

The same day, CENTCOM announced the start of Operation Sentinel:

U.S. Central Command is developing a multinational maritime effort, Operation Sentinel, to increase surveillance of and security in key waterways in the Middle East to ensure freedom of navigation in light of recent events in the Arabian Gulf region.

The goal of Operation Sentinel is to promote maritime stability, ensure safe passage, and de-escalate tensions in international waters throughout the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait (BAM) and the Gulf of Oman.

This maritime security framework will enable nations to provide escort to their flagged vessels while taking advantage of the cooperation of participating nations for coordination and enhanced maritime domain awareness and surveillance.

Meanwhile, off Venezuela

Maduro can’t afford much, but he can still flex some Flankers from time to time apparently.

U.S. Southern Command released a series of short (20 sec) videos of a Venezuelan SU-30 Flanker as it “aggressively shadowed” a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II reportedly at an unsafe distance in international airspace over the Caribbean Sea July 19, jeopardizing the crew and aircraft.

“The EP-3 aircraft, flying a mission in approved international airspace, was approached in an unprofessional manner by the SU-30 that took off from an airfield 200 miles east of Caracas.”

And the beat goes on…

Limpet mine update: ‘With high confidence’

U.S. Navy CDR Sean Kido, head of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit One One (EODMU 11) explains the attack on the Panama-flagged chemical/oil tanker Kokuka Courageous (19,349t) and the Norwegian-owned (International Tanker Management) Marshal Islands-flagged oil tanker Front Altair, allegedly by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, in the Gulf of Oman on June 13th, 2019:

Mr. Limpet makes his daytime appearance in the Gulf of Oman

Not this guy who everybody loved:

This guy:

(Or approximate)

The attack in International waters hit the Panama-flagged chemical/oil tanker Kokuka Courageous (19,349t), owned by Singapore-based Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) and carrying a load of methanol; along with the Norwegian-owned (International Tanker Management) Marshal Islands-flagged oil tanker Front Altair (62,849t) with a load of crude, early on June 13. Both were carrying what Japan’s Trade Ministry says were “Japan-related” cargo.

The attacks occurred off the Emirati port of Fujairah, also on the Gulf of Oman, approaching the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes.

Kokuka Courageous Front Altair

“The timing was considered sensitive as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran on a high-stakes diplomacy mission.”

5th Fleet’s release on the matter through CENTCOM:

TAMPA (NNS) — U.S. Naval Forces in the region received two separate distress calls at 6:12 a.m. local time from the motor tanker (M/T) Altair and a second one at 7a.m. local time from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.

Both vessels were in international waters in the Gulf of Oman approximately 10 nautical miles apart at the time of the distress calls. USS Bainbridge was approximately 40 nautical miles away from the M/T Altair at the time of the attack and immediately began closing the distance.

At 8:09 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observed an IRGC Hendijan class patrol boat and multiple IRGC fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft (FAC/FIAC) in the vicinity of the M/T Altair.

At 9:12 a.m. local time a U.S. aircraft observes the FAC/FIAC pull a raft from the M/T Altair from the water.

At 9:26 a.m. local time the Iranians requested that the motor vessel Hyundai Dubai, which had rescued the sailors from the M/T Altair, to turn the crew over to the Iranian FIACs. The motor vessel Hyundai Dubai complied with the request and transferred the crew of the M/T Altair to the Iranian FIACs.

At 11:05 a.m. local time USS Bainbridge approaches the Dutch tug Coastal Ace, which had rescued the crew of twenty-one sailors from the M/T Kokuka Courageous who had abandoned their ship after discovering a probable unexploded limpet mine on their hull following an initial explosion.

190613-N-N0101-115 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) In this Powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage from an explosion, left, and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), not pictured, approaches the damaged ship. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

190613-N-N0101-116 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) In this Powerpoint slide provided by U.S. Central Command damage from an explosion, left, and a likely limpet mine can be seen on the hull of the civilian vessel M/V Kokuka Courageous in the Gulf of Oman, June 13, 2019, as the guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96), not pictured, approaches the damaged ship. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

While the Hendijan patrol boat appeared to attempt to get to the tug Coastal Ace before USS Bainbridge, the mariners were rescued by USS Bainbridge at the request of the master of the M/T Kokuka Courageous. The rescued sailors are currently aboard USS Bainbridge.

190613-N-SS350-0135 GULF OF OMAN (June 13, 2019) Sailors aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) render aid to the crew of the M/V Kokuka Courageous. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jason Waite/Released)

At 4:10 p.m. local time an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat approached the M/T Kokuka Courageous and was observed and recorded removing the unexploded limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous.

The U.S. and our partners in the region will take all necessary measures to defend ourselves and our interests. Today’s attacks are a clear threat to international freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce.

The U.S. and the international community, stand ready to defend our interests, including the freedom of navigation.

The United States has no interest in engaging in a new conflict in the Middle East. However, we will defend our interests.

The attack comes a month to the day after what is described as “Coordinated teams of divers using limpet mines incapacitated the vessels in a series of timed detonations” to damage four tankers from the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Norway off the Emirati coast.

The underwater damage to the Saudi Arabian tanker Al Marzoqah May 12

Saudi Arabian tanker Amjad was one of those attacked in the Port of Fujairah May 12

And the beat goes on…

Google Operation Praying Mantis to see how this is going to end up.

Coming at your from 1988: