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Tensions Over Hormuz Raise Ugly Possibilities For War 969

Hugh Pickens writes "The high stakes standoff between Iran and the U.S. over the Strait of Hormuz, the passageway for one-fifth of the world's oil, escalated this week as Iran's navy claimed to have recorded video of a U.S. aircraft carrier entering the Port of Oman and the deputy chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Hossein Salami rejected U.S. claims that it could prevent Iran from closing the strait. To drive the point home, Iran has started a 10-day naval exercise in the Persian Gulf to show off how it could use small speedboats and a barrage of missiles to combat America's naval armada while in a report for the Naval War College, U.S. Navy Commander Daniel Dolan wrote that Iran has acquired 'thousands of sea mines, wake homing torpedoes, hundreds of advanced cruise missiles (PDF) and possibly more than one thousand small Fast Attack Craft and Fast Inshore Attack Craft.'" (Read more, below.)
Hugh Pickens continues: "The heart of the Iran's arsenal is its 200 small potential-suicide boats — fiberglass motorboats with a heavy machine gun, a multiple rocket-launcher, or a mine — and may also carry heavy explosives, rigged to ram and blow a hole in the hull of a larger ship. These boats will likely employ a strategy of 'swarming' — coming out of nowhere to ambush merchant convoys and American warships in narrow shipping lanes. But the U.S. Navy is not defenseless against kamikaze warfare. The U.S. has put more machine guns and 25-millimeter gyro-stabilized guns on the decks of warships, modified the 5-inch gun to make it more capable of dealing with high-speed boats, and improved the sensor suite of the Aegis computer-integrated combat system aboard destroyers and cruisers. 'We have been preparing for it for a number of years with changes in training and equipment,' says Vice Admiral (ret.) Kevin Cosgriff, former commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command."
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Tensions Over Hormuz Raise Ugly Possibilities For War

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  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @09:46AM (#38547440) Journal
    Their primary naval weapon is a missile that can get into ballistic mode before a ship's countermeasure can intercept it. From what I read, the strategy behing "suicide boats" is not the kamikaze strategy of crashing a boat inside an aircraft carrier but rather to be used as the launchpoint of a single anti-ship missile. The launching boat will be easy to sink, but very cheap to replace. If two or three of these boats can sink one large US ship, that is a net win for Iran.

    You can't escape a missile with a ship, and no 100% efficient counter-measure exist yet. If Iran strikes first, no big US ship should expect to survive the first wave.
    • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @10:08AM (#38547570)

      Their primary naval weapon is . . .

      Iran: "Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Ayatollah .... Our *four*...no... *Amongst* our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise...."

      Actually, if Iran has an unlimited supply of boats and suicide-minded crews, the only way to stop them will be to bomb their bases of operation. In other words, carpet bombing Iran's coast: naval bases, fishing villages, women and children . . .

      This was not an option on the table, when dealing with the Somali pirates.

      This would be ugly, but war is an ugly business . . . and oil is thicker than blood.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ericloewe ( 2129490 )
        Carpets bombs are old-fashioned. They'd keep predators over the area, waiting for any speedboats to leave shore. Then, it's a matter of launching ordnance.
    • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @10:10AM (#38547588)

      The worst thing that could happen to Iran is that they could sink a few US ships.

      The US would lose face internationally then and would be required to grind Iran into the dust.

      What is so frustrating about the Iranians is how bad they are at dealing with ANYONE else. They're the worst diplomats. No one likes them.

      If they go toe to toe with the US over the straight they'll have no backers. The chinese need that straight open. They have a strong interest in free trade. Europeans are finally on board. The Russians are not going to be the outsider if the US, China, and EU are largely in agreement. And there's the Arabs that are also scared that Iran is going to start threatening them with nukes.

      So... no friends.

      The US almost WANTS iran to attack it just for the justification. But the absolute worst thing Iran could do is sink some US ships. Because they're only going to be able to do that ONCE. The US would never get close enough to let that happen again. And because the US is going to keep going through that straight it would mean Iran either demilitarizes the straight or the US demilitarizes it for them at range.

    • by Splab ( 574204 )

      The Phalanx doesn't agree with your statement - that thing can take out incoming mortar fire - yes, swarming it from close range would be probably be a problem, but I seriously doubt the Iranians would be capable of doing that.

    • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwaterNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday December 31, 2011 @12:20PM (#38548550) Homepage

      Their primary naval weapon is a missile that can get into ballistic mode before a ship's countermeasure can intercept it.

      [[Citation Needed]] A real one, not some tinfoil hat website.
      OTOH, a ballistic target can be handled by either CIWS [wikipedia.org], RAM [wikipedia.org], or ESSM [wikipedia.org] systems.

      From what I read, the strategy behing "suicide boats" is not the kamikaze strategy of crashing a boat inside an aircraft carrier but rather to be used as the launchpoint of a single anti-ship missile. The launching boat will be easy to sink, but very cheap to replace. If two or three of these boats can sink one large US ship, that is a net win for Iran.

      Again, [[Citation Needed]]. a real one, not some tinfoil hat website.
      This strategy is not so easy as you might think. Lacking offboard sensors (which can be jammed, and the platforms carrying them destroyed), such boats will have to come over the horizon and either launch optically or use radar. If they're visible during the day time, or if they radiate, there's a a near certainty that they'll be spotted - and destroyed. (After their radar is jammed.) It's damm near a suicide mission with a low probability of success no matter what the label says.
      What you and the other armchair admirals don't seem to realize is that the defenses of a US battlegroup are layered. From aircraft out on the edges, through electronic warfare and countermeasures systems, naval guns and missiles, anti-aircraft guns and missiles, and decoys and chaff. No, no one layer is perfect, but there's a lot of overlapping layers. I'm not saying it's impossible, but that you and the other armchair admirals don't realize the difficulties involved.
      Most slashdotters are probably too young to remember - but Iran tried this back in the 1980's, and got soundly spanked.

  • by GrpA ( 691294 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @09:47AM (#38547448)

    Given the US withdrawal in Iraq, engaging in a war with Iran won't be easy or popular. Lately they've managed to capture drones and threatening the shipping will let them achieve their own goals with the least risk of provoking a US response.

    I guess the real question is, what will the US do if it is attacked? In all likelyhood, they will be buzzed by Iranian boats without actually being attacked. But how close will they let such boats approach?


    • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @09:59AM (#38547528)
      I imagine that is the plan. Iran couldn't win an actual war, and their leadership are smart enough to know that. But they also know that the US doesn't *want* a war right now. The public are already sick war. So they have a good chance at intimidating the US into backing down to avoid a politically-embarassing conflict.
      • The US people don't want a war, but the current US president would benefit greatly from a new war with Iran. I the Iranian gov provoked war by sinking a US warship, public opinion in the States would swing toward aggression in a minute, and Obama would be a lock for a second term.

  • by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) * <bittercode@gmail> on Saturday December 31, 2011 @09:51AM (#38547468) Homepage Journal

    Iran unlikely to block oil shipments through Strait of Hormuz, analysts say. [washingtonpost.com]
    From the linked article: And Iran — which has enjoyed record oil profits over the past five years but is faced with a dwindling number of oil customers — relies on the Hormuz Strait as the departure gate for its biggest client: China.

    “We would be committing economical suicide by closing off the Hormuz Strait,” said an Iranian Oil Ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “Oil money is our only income, so we would be spectacularly shooting ourselves in the foot by doing that.”

    Ahmad Bakhshayesh Ardestani, a political scientist running for parliament from the camp of hard-line clerics and commanders opposing Ahmadinejad, said it is “good politics” for Iran to respond to U.S. threats with threats of its own.

    “But our threat will not be realized,” Ardestani said. “We are just responding to the U.S., nothing more.”

  • by adamchou ( 993073 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @09:51AM (#38547472)
    Malcolm Gladwell touches about a similar situation in his book Blink. He talks about the largest ever war exercise called the Millennium Challenge [wikipedia.org]. In short, the US hired a badass ex-Marine named Paul Van Riper [wikipedia.org] to command the OPFOR. This guy wrecked havoc on the US Navy by using speed boats and cruise missiles. It was so bad, the US had to stop the exercise, refloat their boats, changed the rules of engagement, then did the exercise ever again. Of course, the blue force won the second time and they claimed a huge success.
    • by JimCanuck ( 2474366 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @03:36PM (#38550240)

      Just that one?

      In 1981 a Canadian diesel submarine managed to sink the USS America (a American aircraft carrier), and another one sunk the U.S.S. Forrestal also a aircraft carrier in NATO's Ocean Venture exercise.

      In 1989 The Royal Netherlands Navy in NATO's Northern Star exercise was also credited with sinking another American aircraft carrier using a submarine.

      In 1996 during RIMPAC 1996, Chile managed to sink the American aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Independence.

      In 1999 again the RN Navy sunk the USS Theodore Roosevelt in JTFEX/TMDI99, as well a Swedish submarine is credited with the sinking of the USS Ronald Reagan in the same exercise.

      In 2000 a couple of Russian fighters decided to test the response time of the USS Kitty Hawk, got the the carrier without being detected and managed to do a few fly overs before the Americans decided to do anything about it. Gen. Anatoly M. Kornukov, the Russian air force's commander in chief. ‘In the pictures, you can clearly see the panic on deck.’

      In 2002 Australian Navy submarine H.M.A.S. Sheehan, took on and defeated the U.S.S. Olympia in another war game.

      In 2003, the Australians in another exercise also got credit for sinking another American aircraft carrier, and they successfully took on 2 Los Angeles class nuclear attack submarines in the exercise as well.

      And well the US Air Force did well against Iraq, regretfully, most of the Western world has time and time again made a mockery of the American Air Force, just as the mockery of the American's battle fleets.

      For the sake of the rest of the world, I hope the American's can learn something from their past before they end up fighting a enemy who wants to fight.

  • by Walter White ( 1573805 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @09:55AM (#38547492)

    Do the Iranians realize that there are those in the US who think a war with Iran would be a good thing? Is it wise for the Iranians to give them an excuse to proceed?

    Only one of the candidates hoping to run against Obama is happy that we're pulling out of Iraq. (And considering the size if the Iraqi embassy and the size of the staff there, "pulling out" is really a euphemism for withdrawing to the embassy.)

  • by taxman_10m ( 41083 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @09:57AM (#38547508)

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/12/washington/12navy.html [nytimes.com]

    In the days since the encounter with five Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz, American officers have acknowledged that they have been studying anew the lessons from a startling simulation conducted in August 2002. In that war game, the Blue Team navy, representing the United States, lost 16 major warships — an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious vessels — when they were sunk to the bottom of the Persian Gulf in an attack that included swarming tactics by enemy speedboats.

    “The sheer numbers involved overloaded their ability, both mentally and electronically, to handle the attack,” said Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper, a retired Marine Corps officer who served in the war game as commander of a Red Team force representing an unnamed Persian Gulf military. “The whole thing was over in 5, maybe 10 minutes.”

    • by BrynM ( 217883 ) * on Saturday December 31, 2011 @10:35AM (#38547746) Homepage Journal

      Unfortunately, the US Military didn't listen to him. The first round was over quick, but instead of trying to defeat the scenario, the Millennium Challenge (as the wargame was known) was reset and a predetermined plan of attack was ordered. Gen. Van Riper resigned in disgust.

      After the reset, both sides were ordered to follow predetermined plans of action, leading to allegations that the exercise was scripted and "$250 million was wasted".[3] Due to his concerns about the scripted nature of the new exercise, Van Riper resigned his position in the midst of the war game. Van Riper later expressed concern that the wargame's purpose had shifted to reinforce existing doctrine and notions of infallibility within the U.S. military rather than serve as a learning experience.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Challenge_2002 [wikipedia.org]

  • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @10:04AM (#38547544)

    Take a look at a map. The UAE or Omar could build a sea level canal right through the peninsula . Heck the UAE is pretty good at earth moving. They could use the extra dirt to build even more islands.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @10:36AM (#38547760) Homepage

    You just never know how these things will unfold. Lots of posturing and a bit of "chicken." Iran, I believe, has more of a Navy than the article is letting on. But as a former US sailor myself, I can say it would not take much doing to coordinate some drones and install some extra CIWZ mounted around their ships and you will have a pretty fair defense against suicide speed boats. They wouldn't be able to get within 1000 yards... (2000 yard range)

    I worked in OPS in a carrier group. We had the radar and sonar systems linked as a net to create a very large picture of everything in the area above, below and at sea level with every form of projectile defense capable of using that data to hit any target at any speed with pants-pissing accuracy.

    "What about the Cole?" you ask? Well, at the time, people were worried about whether or not it was another green peace boat trying to spray paint on the hull again and they likely had a fire hose ready to spray them off at the time not expecting what really happened. You can bet that mistake will not happen again. The world has been warned that the US will not allow unknown, unannounced small craft anywhere near a US navy military vessel.

    What's more, with today's level of target tracking, incidents like the Stark are unimaginable. That's not to say that some US targets won't take damage... they might... mines are still a threat... a minor threat really. The US ships don't have to be close to be deadly and putting mines into international waters? I don't think so. And we don't need to send landing craft in to invade.

    Iran would be foolish to play too much chicken with the trigger-happy US military... a fight with the US would just "create more jobs" in the US bringing support for a war pretty quickly.

  • Hormuz not necessary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stomv ( 80392 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @10:52AM (#38547874) Homepage

    It's the cheapest route, but it really isn't as necessary as Iran would have you believe. There's enough surplus pipeline capacity through Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, even Israel to offset about half of the closure [although admittedly not all of that capacity is ready to go immediately, as some of it has been mothballed]. That means world oil supply is reduced by 10% in the near term. A supply shock? Sure. However, the combination of fuel switching for electricity generation and oil already being stored elsewhere, plus the potential increase in production elsewhere (OPEC and otherwise) to grab extra profits suggests this isn't going to be terribly disruptive, and certainly not something worth going to war over.

    In the mean time, it's worth noting that a sudden increase in petrol-energy-efficiency could shave off that last 10% in just a few years. Help avoid war: ride a bicycle | ride a bus | ride a subway | walk | telecommute | carpool.

  • by arthurpaliden ( 939626 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @10:54AM (#38547894)
    Just build a pipeline that avoids the choke point. I hear there is lots of brand new pipe not going to be used for the Keystone project that could easily be shipped the mid-east and used to build a new lines to ports on the Arabian Sea..
  • Two things. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by orphiuchus ( 1146483 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @10:58AM (#38547932)

    First: This wouldn't be a war like Afghanistan or Iraq, because the US would most likely only be concerned with destroying the Iranian military and forcing them out of the strait of Hormuz. This would be largely an air war, and the US would likely suffer very few casualties as a result. We could destroy their navy, inflict massive military casualties, and cripple their ability to project force into the strait without more than a few boots on the ground, and most likely this is how it would go.

    Second: None of that matters, because Iran does not gain from a war with the US. It would be an absolute disaster for their people and it would likely force their government out of power. The reason that they're doing this is because Ahmadinejad needs a scapegoat in order to keep his popularity up, and calling out the US and Israel at every opportunity is a lot easier than dealing with real issues. Hes been doing it for years, the only reason hes making more noise now is because his popularity is dwindling.

  • by gestalt_n_pepper ( 991155 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @11:13AM (#38548056)

    Iran, I suspect, can block the strait, just as it says. Asymmetric power works. Ask the Vietnamese. Ask those upstart American colonists. Ask the Afghans. As another writer pointed out, Iran doesn't have to win, they just have to make the conflict too expensive to sustain. And we can't just nuke Iran. The Chinese and Russians might give us some trouble on that, you see, and they have real power, not bluster. We'd have to cut an expensive deal with them.

    No good solution here.

  • by lexsird ( 1208192 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @11:39AM (#38548254)

    It's almost here. 2012 and I feel this year, sans any end of the world scenario playing out, it's going to be one of the most exciting years in recent history. Strap in folks, it's going to be a wild ride.

    Isn't one aircraft carrier group the equivalent to any 3rd world country in military power?

    Oh well, it's not Iran that concerns me, it's China. Iran and China are classic bed buddies. Didn't China load up Iran on Silkworm missiles that can smoke our jets out of the air? Interesting enough though, China has switched into a Capitalistic mode and both us and them are locked in some grim fandango of economics. Will they back our play or Iran's is the question of the day.

    China should, if they were smart, disarm all of their little buddies around them, leaving the US with no excuse to continue it's military spending. Then it all goes to Wal-Mart and then into their pockets, thus defeating the US at Capitalism. Oh the irony!

    If we follow this hypothesis, we will not hear China say a peep when we decide to obliterate the Iranian military. Yes, we can do it. People forget how quickly we rolled in on Iraq. We were completely awesome about it. We are like that, we win wars, but lose the peace. The 10 years that followed overshadowed that stunning victory.

    What we are looking at here from Iran I think is just more of their ballsy sabre rattling. Their people have discovered they can posture, bluster and sabre rattle thus putting up quite a show for the "rube Westerners." When this happens, we tend to just throw money at them and tell them to shut up. It's the classic "the mouse that roared" situation.

    Iran is proving to be a bit retarded though it seems. The American war machine is facing being geared down. The war machine hates this and wants to keep munching on someone's ass. It gets fed well, gets to sleep in a warm bed at night and on the weekends it goes out partying. It really wants Iran to give it an excuse to chew them up into little bitty bits. If Iran doesn't think it's capable, then Iran is smoking some really good weed, and should share it with the rest of the world instead of just its oil.

    Can't you imagine them dancing around with each other in glee, like the merry wee people in some film, down at the Pentagon? "Wooohoo!" They all cried in chorus. "The Iranians are going to give us a war!" There is a band with lutes and flutes in the corner, a bag pipe as well. From somewhere a big wooden keg of ale appears, and serving wenches carrying frothing mugs, bustle about. They end it all with a crescendo, singing like a choir "Oh Happy Day."

    Then they all run off to their offices to pour over their list of war toys they want to play with. They have had a decade of a big trough of money to buy oodles of war toys, but nobody to play with. Fist fights break out at the water coolers as arguments over who gets to blow up the Iranians with what toy happen.

    Hey Iran, posturing around the US during one of their crazy election years is seriously jumping the shark. Hilary will be on the phone soon to tell you what a collective bunch of retards you are, and you are going to have to take it. She's a woman. How do you like dealing with our female Secretary of State? Don't you love having a WOMAN come spell it out for you what you are going to do or else get crushed? Yeah, we did that on purpose. Think about it.

    But then again, they might be a bit turned on by it.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @12:58PM (#38548868) Homepage
    is that america has been toeing the line with war against iran for decades, just itching for a reason to inexplicably bombard a nation of 75 million peaceful civillians and arguably the largest jewish minority in the middle east. [wikipedia.org]
    that america, despite the fact that iran has captured our most sophisticated reconnosance robotics, still considers iran a soft and easy target is to awaken the memory of the cold war when we assumed the tupolev was nothing more than a biplane. [wikipedia.org]. Iran has enjoyed american diplomacy first hand at the overthrow of their democratically elected government through sponsored terrorism; it understands america to be a fairweather friend at best. despite numerous invasive and exhaustive probes by the IAEA there is no evidence of a thermonuclear weapons program and given the size of the state, a nuclear energy program seems completely reasonable, justified and expected. Iran has roughly 1/4th the population of the united states.
    but thanks to the carter doctrine of international diplomacy in the middle east, despite the fact that a minority of american oil is actually produced in the region we must still charge dick-first into the any arabian country in the region to appear even remotely modern, self sufficient, and untameable by antiquated american colonialist policy.

    lets all agree the easiest thing to do to keep the straight clear is to admit the fact that we screwed up the spy game just as we had numerous times during the cold war, apologise and consider formal talks or a prisoner exchange if we want the drone, and move on to bigger problems like the utter financial collapse that keeps plaguing the country, or alternative energy sources to keep us from having to engage in this trite pedantic pissing contest we call a foreign policy.
  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @01:12PM (#38549000) Homepage

    All the warnings you need about attacking Iran can be had from geopolitical analyst Dr. Gwynne Dyer, who has to tiredly write another article warning about it being a Bad Idea every couple of years. From the most recent one:

    "The Noor anti-ship missile is a locally built version of the Chinese YJ-82. It has a 200-km. (140-mile) range, enough to cover all the major choke points in the Gulf. It flies at twice the speed of sound just meters above the sea’s surface, and it has a tiny radar profile. Its single-shot kill probability has been put as high as 98 percent.

    Iran’s mountainous coastline extends along the whole northern side of the Gulf, and these missiles have easily concealed mobile launchers. They would sink tankers with ease, and in a few days insurance rates for tankers planning to enter the Gulf would become prohibitive, effectively shutting down the region’s oil exports completely."

    Do they sound a little less "asymmetric" now? Yes, you could bombard the coastline heavily, but some caves can go pretty deep, particularly if the cavers bring mining equipment - 25 years ago. And do you really want to get into a shootin' match with 98% kill probability when they lose a 5-man missile crew and you lose a carrier?

      I also like the point about the "insurance costs". You don't think of wars being one by accountants, but that's the way it goes. The Iranians have absolutely zero need to engage with the mighty US Navy at all; they just have to sink a couple of very fat, very slow oil tankers, just a few, then wait for Lloyd's to react, while the probably-unharmed crew are being fished from the lifeboats. And Lloyd's says to itself, "Can even the US Navy check out every goddamn cave the size of a 2-car garage in 200km of coastline? When the 90% that do not contain actual missiles do contain dummies? No, they cannot. Not this week, month, or, probably, year." And so the price of oil sits there at $250/bbl until everybody calms down.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Saturday December 31, 2011 @02:53PM (#38549908) Homepage Journal
    Riddle me this! What is the longest amount of time the USA has gone without being at war? Sure the proles were tired of those dirty old wars, but offer them a shiny new war just in time for election season? A lot of guys on the R side have had a hard-on for Iran for years. If shrub hadn't jumped into Iraq when he did, I bet he'd have found some reason to invade Iran. I always thought that was part of his strategy in the middle east, but Iraq turned out to be a wee bit harder than he thought it would be so he never got around to it.

    I can't wait to see WHAT will happen!

Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong