Well, Iran has announced that it has built and launched its first major surface combatant. And the warship — the Jamaran — promises to shake up the balance of power in the Persian Gulf.
No, really. Honest. They’re actually saying that. STOP LAUGHING, DAMMIT! THEY’RE SERIOUS!
I’m a bit of a naval buff, and as I read about this so-called “destroyer,” I have to wonder who they think they’re kidding.
According to Wikipedia (and while it’s often derided, in cases like this it’s fairly reliable), the Jamaran is 308 feet long, displaced 1,400 tons, and is armed with a 76-mm cannon, a 40-mm cannon, 2 20-26mm cannons, 4 surface-to-surface missiles, some anti-aircraft missiles, and torpedoes. It also has a reported top speed of 30 knots.
Let’s be blunt. This ain’t a “destroyer.” This is a frigate at best, if not a corvette. “Destroyers” haven’t been this small since before World War II. And while 30 knots is a respectable speed for most ships, destroyers — the “greyhounds of the sea” — usually have a top speed on the high side of 35 knots.
OK, it’s small and slow, for a “destroyer.” Maybe it makes up for it in hitting power.
The missile suite is OK. The anti-ship missiles could be pretty decent — rumor has it they’re Chinese-made cruise missiles that have a disturbingly solid reputation. We don’t have any details on the anti-aircraft missiles or the torpedoes, but I suspect they’re also Chinese-made and pretty good.
How about the guns? They’ll probably be used most often (shells being cheaper than missiles), so they’re pretty important.
The main gun is an Iranian-manufactured 76mm cannon. It’s a knockoff of the Oto Melara, a very good Italian-made weapon that dates back to the early 1960’s. But while old, it’s been continually improved and is still state of the art — the US Navy has used it on a variety of ships, and it’s still being made and sold today. It’s fully automatic, and some versions can fire up to 100 rounds a minute.
The secondary gun has an even older lineage. The 40mm is suspected to be derived from the weapon invented by the Swedish firm Bofors, and development on that gun started in the late 1920’s. It has a legendary history as an anti-aircraft gun, and has been steadily improved over all those years, and the latest versions fire over 300 rounds a minute, and one variant pumps out 450 a minute — almost eight shots a second.
So, on paper, it’s a halfway decent smallish frigate.
What matters is what Iran will do with it. And that, to be blunt, ain’t much.
The Iranian navy is a respectable force, the most potent of the Persian Gulf states.
Unfortunately for Iran, there’s a navy that isn’t based in or around the Gulf that utterly dominates that area — the US Navy. And to the US Navy, the Jamaran poses less of a threat and more of a challenge. What’s the quickest way to sink her? What’s the cheapest? What’s the most efficient? What’s the most spectacular? What’s the most deniable?
Iran would be better served, strategically, by submarines and not surface combatants. Like Nazi Germany, they’re facing a naval opponent that hopelessly outclasses them on the high seas. Instead of trying to match their opponents in a head-to-head matchup, they’d be better advised to focus on a more stealthy weapons platform that can threaten not warships primarily, but commercial shipping. A few subs with torpedoes and mines could cause far more havoc than a flotilla of these “destroyers.”
On the other hand, surface ships like this have one major advantage over subs: they’re a lot harder for the US to make disappear. Subs go to sea and vanish. When they don’t come back, there are a lot of plausible explanations — rammed by a passing ship, mechanical failures, weapons failures — besides “somebody found it inconvenient and quietly sank it.”
The Jamaran is named after a village just outside Teheran where the Ayatollah Khomeini lived during his rule. I suspect that a good portion of the US Navy tends to translate the name as “target.”