PERSIAN GULF NAVIES: A POWER VACUUM

Created: 8/1/1980

OCR scan of the original document, errors are possible

Persian Gulfower Vacuum (u)

revolution in9 crippled the Iranian Navy, bothegional naval power andcasial defense force. Prospects arc dim Ihal Ihe navies ofoihcr Gulfor inensure Ihe securitye Gulf and the free flow of its oil. Iraq. Oman, and Saudi Arabia arc the only states with navies of any size, and their mutual distrust suggests that they arc more likely to compete than to cooperate in their efforts to fill the current void!

causes of ihe downfall of the Iranian Navy arc many; the loss of maintenancehortage of critical spare ports, the demoralizing influence of Revolutionary Councils upon militaryeakening of leadership, the departure of foreign advisers, and ;hc interruption of foreign training and supply contracts. [

While US and allied economic sanctions remain in force. Iranian naval Ciiffctbiiiiics will continue lo deteriorate. Because almost all of the Navy's equipment was obtained from the Wcsl. ihosc sanctions make the Navy's supply and spare pans problems almost insoluble. In addition, the eroding skills or Iranian seamen will deteriorate further without renewed foreign assistance. The current government has neither the funds nor the commitment lo arrest the Navy's decline. Even if it had both, the decline probably could not be reversed before the

Persian Gulfower Vacuum (u)

The Dctaslalion or The Navy Before (he V' rotation

(ho IranianifieShab. the Imperial Iranian Navy hadoastal defense and a

rcsional "blue water" mission. Its strategy was designed to protect the oil rouics from the head of the Persian Gulf to the dccp-walcr sea roulcsofthc Indian Ocean. Suspicious of Iraq and its Soviet connection, the Shah was determined toa*l. hard-hilling fleet inside the Persian Guir lo protcci vulnerable oilfields and facililics from Iraqi strikes. Plans for the construction of the mililary base al Chah Bahar indicated Iran's concern with fulurc conlroi of the Arabian Sea and ihcGulf of Oman (sec map).

The Shah's grandiose plans for all ihe armed forces were financially dependent on Iranian oil. Me realized thai the oil boom ofould noi last forever and was determined tu bring the Iranian Navy quickly up to par wilh those of industrialized nations through purchases of the most modern arms available. T

A Close relationship with the Wcslatural oulgrowth of this effort. The economies of the Uniled Slalcs and ils allies depended on Persian Gulf oit.and the Shah's mililary ambitions coincided with Ihe Western needtrong and reliable ally in the region, (u)

Assuming Brilain's vacated role as the dominant military power in the area, Iranavy larger than the combined naval foiccsof all Ihe other countries bordering ihe Gulf It grew lo0 personnel and was organized into three flotillas al four bases on the Persian Gulf.hins includedestroyer escorts,atrolbin the escorts armed with guided missiles. Ii also had five minesweepers andir-cushionhovercraft than any other navy except that of Ihe Soviet Union. Q

The ability of the Navy to absorb and maintain the new ships and weapon systems was severely limitedersistent shortage of mechanics and icchnicians. In addiiion. it had neither the facililics nor the administrators to handle large deliveries of new hardware. While the Shah was modernizing Ihe mililary, he was also proceeding wilh economic development, social welfare, and other civilian modernization programs, and these simultaneous efforts competed for Iran's small trained workisproportionate number of enlisted personnel were uneducated, two-year conscripts for whom extensive twining was considered impractical. To work with

Cm 11

vcuipmcni, ihc Shah hired many foreign technicians and sent large numbers of Iranian students to training schools in the United States and Europe. Thus, in thennd, the Iranian capability to assimilate ii* new acquisitions became increasingly tied to the US capacity lo provide technical assistance and |

In the. while this arrangement was working smoothly. Iran's Navy was an impressive force, certainly the mosl powerful in the Persian Gulf. The officer cadre was especially well trained and loyalhe Shah, and discipline was rcflcelcdenerally high state operational readiness. New. highly advanced arms were pouring into Ihc country, and although much of the online equipment was old and obsolete, it was fairly well mainlaincd, wiih lhc help of foreign nationals, and fleet exercises and training proceeded

Revolution and Erosion

The rcvolulionevastating effect on the Navy's eombai readiness. Central command and control collapsed wiih the successive appointment and dismissal of fourn chief. Nearly alt flag officers were arrested, retired, or forced into hiding when the Revolutionary Councils took over. With the departure or foreign technicians, most overhaul, repair, and maintenance activities were abandoned. Exercises, training, and even palrols were curtailed or suspended, and the Navy was virtually dormant for mosthile some ships could still put to sea. they could not conduct maneuvers, fire guns, or remain at sea longerays without mechanical breakdowns. Fire control systems, calibration devices, radars, and otherepends on sophisticated electronic components rapidly deteriorated

The impact on naval personnel was equally ruinous.

[Morale in the officer corps plummeted under

the constant fear of dismissal, and lhc lower ranks lost confidence in the decisions of their superiors as they realized the sweeping authority of the Rcvolulionary Councils and the extent of their interference in the military chain of command,!-

These turbulent changes lowered lhc professional and technical qualifica-lions of the higher echelons of command. Junior officers, pctly officers, and evenhipyard workers were elected or promoted lo the positions of firmer high-ranking officers. These men were deficient in both trade and managerial skills. Although most had had some technical Iraining. ihcy had never performed or supervised ship repairs requiring advanced skills, and there were no longer any foreign technical experts upon whom to call for assistance!-

Currcnl Posture

The Navy has emerged from Ihe chaosie revolutionhanged mission. Mainly because of policy decisions by government authorities, but also because its capabilities have diminished, the Navy has relinquished ils former mission of protecting sea lanes in the Gulf of Oman and northwest Arabian Sea and is now little moreoastal defense force. It alsoattered self-image thai willong lime healing. Despite the Navy's recent efforts lo improve ils maintenance capabilities, the ships still break down so oficn that they cannot be counted on even for coastal patrols.

Major Combatants. Iran'sajor naval combatants (sec table I) have had such extensive and repeated mechanical difficulties since the revolution that some of them have rarely been noted al sea. The backbone of thethree guided-missile destroyers and four gtiidcd-missilcmost of iheir lime in port and could not now musterredible shoreline defense!

The missile attackIranian patrol units m< rt frequently deployed in iheigher level of readiness lhan most other ships in the NavyA

These

trcnch-buili boats arc the main lighting lotcche Iranian Navy and even in their present stateclhal force.

Other Equipment. The operational cffcciiveness of lhc approximatelyfool fast patrol boals has dropped as frequent mechanical breakdowns have reduced their availability. Ity comparison, lhc seven motorand simpler than some of the Navy's more recentless prone lo breakdown but arc obsolescent. Armed onlymm.calibcr guns, these boats offer liltlc deterrent to potential enemies. Nevertheless, the Navy relics heavily on iis patrol boats and gunboats for parrol duics.l-

Iran's five minesweepers arc virtually limitedatrol functions.is old and breaks down rcpcalcdly, the crews arc notthe ships spend mosl of Iheir time in port. The Navy has never hadcapability and ils ability to sweep mines is

The Shah's ambitious hovcrcrnfl fleet has been greatly affected by the disruption of maintenance and lack of spare pans.f

The Navy's helicopter fleet has suffered from lhc same problems affeeling the servicehole (see

about half of the helicopters can still be

operated, and on them some of the weapons and electronic systems no longer

function.

The Navy's air arm alsoumberrion long-range patrol aircraft.but most arcoours per month, and their sophisticated electronic gear is deteriorating^

Friction between the Air Force and the Navy has hampered the execution of certain Iranian joint defense missions.!

The Other Gulf Navies

decline of Iran's oncc-rcspcctcd naval forces hasower vacuum that the other regional states have so far been unableill. Iraq. Oman, and Saudi Arabia have been exploring options for expanding their own naval roles in the Gulf area and have taken specific steps to improve their capabilities.I I

lready ihe strongest air and ground power of the Persian Gulf stales, has ihe best polcnlial for becoming the major Gulf naval power as well. Currently, however, its Navy is small, poorly trained, and largely devoted to coastal defense The fleet's principal combatants arcoviet-built Osa mi wile piiirul boats. Iraqaior expansion thai will allow ihc Navyarry out regular palrols andiable combat capability throughout the Gulf by the. It has alreadyrigate training ship from Yugoslavia for naval cadets, liven if the expansion were completed, however. Iraq would be hard pressed to maintainlcclata high st.uc of operational readiness.]

Although mosl of its major mililary equipment has come from the-Soviet Union. Baghdad has beenhe West since Ihco diversify its source of supplies [

jormil Ihc dominantin thehe shipment of its oil. counterd expand its own power and influence achieve these goals, however. Iraq will

ire or tram skilled personnel

Oman

Oman's strategic location on the Strait of Horniu/eavy burden on fhe tiny but efficient Omnni Navy. Trained and led largely by British officers,avy play*it.il role in guaranteeing lhc smooth flow nf shipping through the Strait. Oman's Iwo Drooke missile pjtro: bails, along

Inn Sffiri

three small gunboals. conduct regular patrols in the area of (hewell as in ihe Gull" of Oman In addiiion lo overseeing the safely ofchannels. Omani ships musi guard Oman's territorial watersIhe local activities of nonrcgionalthose ofSuites and the USSR.

Omanilemma. Sultan Qubus has committed ihe country to protecting ihe shipping lanes into thethough all of its own port facililics are oulsidc theits meager resources arc being stretched to the limit.I

Saudi Arabia

Unlike Oman. Saudi Arabia has Ihe financial means to expand its scant naval forces significantly. Il could not absorb large iimuunis of modern, technically dimple* cquipmeni. however The Saudi Navy currenlly has four small pstirol bonis which have only limited capacity fiif shore patrols, and it must compete wiih ihe oihcr armed services for the tiny pool of trainable manpower in ihe country There arc few trained officers or experienced NCOs around whom the Saudis can build an efficient force.

Nevertheless, the Saudis have developed an ambitious plan to expand the Navy io iwoin the Red Sen and one tn Ihc Persianto ai Icasl quadruple il* force of poirol boat*he Navy plans to build three neweadquarters inase in Jiddah on the Red Sea.ase al Jubail on the Gulf. OS firms arc currently building Upatru: boat* to be armed1 brpoon missiles and delivered to the Saudis.

Prospects forIran in disarray. Iraq. Oman, and Saudi Arabia all recognize the

Persianof the Persian Gulf and its vital energy resources, but none of

these navies, aciing alone, will be capable of guaranteeing the securily of Ihc Gulf before lhc latter part of lhc decade, if then Iraq will probably greatly increase its inventory of ship* and weapons, bul its shallow organiralionalinexperience, aw? technical weukneiscs together "ill limit Ihe effectiveness of lhc new force. Oman'sbetter trained, organized, jnd led than at, other in lhc Gulf cannot be greatly expanded unless Omanependable financial backer. Saudi Arabia hat the wealth io buy new equipment- -much i> already in thewill have great difficulty absorbing ibc equipment or opjrding its naval roic in the Gulf. I"

Only through closer coordination of naval planning could the Gulf states find an early regional solution lo lHeir joint securily needs, bul lhc prospects for such cooperation arc dim. Their longstanding mulual distrust probably will doom any such efforts in ihc near future

a

( in.ij.KTiihe regional navies will probably compete for influence instead of moving loward their common uralcgicdependence on natsidc power* fmsecurity of the Gulf and ihe free flow of il* oil.ailure to cooperate would convince the nonrcgional powers that lhc> must maintain their own strategic naval presence in the area.

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