War With Iran? Iranian War Games In Persian Gulf Unlikely To Intimidate U.S. Navy

Iran is wrapping up a massive round of war games in the Persian Gulf, showcasing its most advanced missiles, special forces, and other naval assets to date. While impressive shows of force, they are highly unlikely to make the U.S. think twice about leaving the Gulf.

The U.S. Navy has deployed what is arguably the most vicious, lethal, and technologically unsurpassed strike group ever to the Persian Gulf as a deterrent to Iranian naval aggression.

Carrier Strike Group Three (CSG-3) is led by the USS John C. Stennis; a carrier housing around 70+ aircraft, supported by two guided-missile cruisers, and rounded out with two to four destroyers, most of which implement the most sophisticated offensive/defensive combat system ever to be designed, the Aegis Combat System (ACS).

The ACS’s prized radar and backbone of the platform, the AN/SPY-1, is reportedly capable of tracking upwards of 100 targets simultaneously from land, sea, and air. Combined with this is the AN/SPQ-9B radar that is primarily used to track and engage targets along coastlines, such as Iran’s western border where its naval bases sit, as well as low-flying anti-ship missiles, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles. Given that all major combat and force projection ships within CSG-3 implement these systems, the group is technically capable of tracking a combined 600 targets and incoming threats from every altitude, distance, and direction imaginable.

On the other side of the Persian Gulf however, Iran is implementing the lessons it learned during the little discussed tanker war of the 1980s against the U.S. and Iraq, and is continuously updating its fleet of small fast boats armed to the teeth and meant to swarm U.S. destroyers, cruisers, and carriers, thus overwhelming their defense systems.

Iran has hundreds of reinforced missile silos and anti-aircraft batteries ringing the entrance to the Gulf. Further, its wide range of stealth flying boats, fast cigarette boats, UAVs, spy planes, underwater mining capabilities, and its own advanced radar systems.

Based on the U.S. Navy’s Aegis systems, Iran would have a tough time taking on the U.S. in the Gulf. However, if Iran sticks to its asymmetrical warfare playbook, simultaneously using a barrage of different missiles, torpedoes, mines, UAVs, helicopters, small boats, and stealth technologies, it is possible that Iran could overwhelm the Aegis system and get the best of the USS Stennis and its posse. After all, the Aegis is only as good as its operators, some of which may still not be up to the task of operating such advanced systems.

In any case, if 2013 brings war between Iran and the U.S. — possibly kick started by Israel — the Persian Gulf may end up with a few more ghost ships on its floor, and an upsetting number of Iranian sailors moving on to the house not built by hands.

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Joseph Sarkisian

Joseph graduated with a Master of Science in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was an intern at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. He completed his BA at Arizona State University in political science as well as studied Arabic language, terrorism/counterterrorism, and religion. Joseph also lived in Egypt where he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo in 2007. Joseph was the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the University of Massachusetts Graduate Student Government, a teaching assistant in his department, and teaches a class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His main areas of interest are the Af/Pak region, Iran, Syria, and other current foreign policy issues.

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