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Guerrillas of the Sea

August 11, 2008

This article is from Asharq Alawsat, which calls itself “The Leading Arabic International Daily” and reveals Iran’s plan for War with the West:

In a surprisingly frank analysis delivered in a speech in Tehran last Sunday, General Muhammad-Ali Jaafari, Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s parallel army, put the Khomeinist regime’s arsenal of missiles at the centre of its strategy for the coming war. He said Iran’s armament industry has been put into high gear to mass-produce all types of missiles as quickly as possible…

The principal theatres of battle will be in the Gulf, especially the Strait of Hormuz. He said his forces had established the plans needed to close the strait “with relative ease.” Because the Gulf is a shallow body of water the depth of which never exceeds 90 metres, the US navy’s large vessels, including aircraft carriers, would be unable to make large maneuvers and thus would become vulnerable to suicide attacks by small high-speed boats coming at them in large numbers. According to Jaafari, this is a tactic known as “hojum ezdehami” (overcrowding attack) in which big American ships would resemble large whales being swarmed upon by thousands of small but deadly fish.

In the West, we call this a “swarming attack“, based on the same principles. What we have here are the first indications of the Third World transferring their successful insurgent tactics on land to the sea environment. Thankfully through a long period of trial and much-publicized error, the US has managed to get a grasp of the Iraq Insurgency. The author goes on to describe what transpires when such a strategy doesn’t go so well for Western Armies:

We witnessed a similar event two years ago during the war between Israel and Iran (via the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah). By all classical measures, Iran’s Lebanese units suffered a crushing defeat. They lost control of territory in southern Lebanon, saw their network of missile-launching pads dismantled, and left a quarter of their fighters dead on the battlefield while and hundreds more captured. And, yet, the overall perception even today is that Iran-Hezbollah won that round hands down.

As we all know, America has managed to stage a comeback from its initial defeats after the 2003 Iraq Invasion, with General Petraeus’ surge of troops and a change in tactics. We’ve no doubt the resilient Israelis will likely manage their own recovery, especially now that a change in the government is in the works. While it may be easy to replace troops and land vehicles, we have to wonder how the US Navy would fare when the suicide bombers are transferred to the world’s oceans.

 A recent incident with a fire onboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington might give us a glimpse of the future. While the accidental blaze was soon contained, the huge vessel and her 90 warplanes will be out of service for most of the summer. Though not an action by an enemy attacker, this incident reveals the vulnerability of our most powerful and essential warships.

An earlier incident is more relevant to our discussion, the USS Cole Bombing from October 12, 2000. According to Wikipedia:

On October 12, 2000, USS Cole, under the command of Commander Kirk Lippold, set in to Aden harbor for a routine fuel stop. Cole completed mooring at 0930. Refueling started at 10:30. Around 11:18 local time (08:18 UTC), a small craft approached the port side of the destroyer, and an explosion occurred, putting a 40-by-60-foot gash in the ship’s port side according to the memorial plate to those that lost their lives. According to former CIA intelligence officer Robert Finke, the blast appeared to be caused by explosives molded into a shaped charge against the hull of the boat. It was reported that the boat was so close that the attackers (trying to appear friendly) aboard the boat and the sailors greeted each other before the blast…Seventeen sailors were killed and thirty nine others were injured in the blast.

She returned to service only after 14 months of repairs in the dockyards. Thus was one of our mightiest battleships placed out of action by the simplest of craft. Today, Iranians attack boats practice such maneuvers on a regular basis, as as the above article details, their attacks will hardly be resigned single suicide attacks, but also combined with cruise missiles.

We think then, using the above mentioned Surge in comparison, that waves of suicide attackers launching themselves against Western navies might soon be contained after a while. We can only hope then that our future leaders will have the resilience to endure the loss of major combat units while having to endure the intense criticism from our liberal press as well as the short patience of our citizens. The Navy would also need to find its own Petraeus who would be willing to think of methods outside the box, a counter-insurgency from the naval environment if you will. He must be open to the often unorthodox measures and even irregular warships, even as the Army was forced to utilize the bizarre new MRAP vehicles to survive the new warfare on land.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. charbookguy permalink
    August 12, 2008 9:29 am

    George I concur with the first part you said hands down, and I’m sorry that I gave the impression otherwise. being a life-long student of history, regular readers of this blog know that i have stood by the President on the Iraq from the start. Even when mistakes were made somehow I had a feeling that if we would stay the course long enough we could figure out a strategy that works. This has been the norm for all America’s wars: extended periods of disasters that were actually learning processes, followed soon by glorious victory.

    I also think that aircraft carriers would be mostly useless and even extra baggage in such an insurgency conflict at sea, with small boats required to clear the seas, a fact which we are currently ignoring. The loss of one carrier in such a conflict would doubtless make Congress and the public dubious to risk so much for so little gain, when light forces do it better. And this is not a new thing, for even a casual study of carrier operations in the last world war reveals that you never operate flattops close to shore in range of enemy land-based airpower, and worse today is having to contend with cruise missiles launched from aircraft and submarine.

    We’ve had it good for several decades having to contend with Third World enemies, giving us complete domination of the sea up to the coastlines. But technology is making such recklessness foolish in the extreme.

  2. Curious George permalink
    August 11, 2008 9:54 pm

    I think you and a generation of Americans have forgotten that fighting wars can mean significant casualties in both personnel and equipment. While Isreal was slowed down militarily it was by no means defeated as shown by your quote

    “By all classical measures, Iran’s Lebanese units [AKA Hezbollah] suffered a crushing defeat. They lost control of territory in southern Lebanon, saw their network of missile-launching pads dismantled, and left a quarter of their fighters dead on the battlefield while and hundreds more captured. And, yet, the overall perception even today is that Iran-Hezbollah won that round hands down.”

    The lesson you’re missing from the Isreali-Palestine conflict is that Israel is considered to have lost due to and information dissemination failure, not because it was defeated on the field of battle. Hezbollah’s force undoubtedly slowed down the IA but that same force was in no position to actually capture any of the Isreali proper.

    Thus yes our Navy may take casualties in a conflict with Iran, especially the Strait of Hormuz. That said I think there is no question that in the end US forces would prevail. How? By our Aircraft carriers which you so often decry which have no need to be parked within the Persian Gulf in order to both provide support for vessels within the gulf (in addition to Aircraft based in Iraq and Saudi Arabia) .

    However, while the outcome may not be in doubt the price involved is arguably too high. That could be mitigated however by the deployment of craft such as the Cyclone class PC’s which would be in their element.

  3. charbookguy permalink
    August 11, 2008 2:06 pm

    All these will work, West, if we had the will to use them, as we did up to Vietnam. Now, it is almost criminal any measures the West uses to defend themselves. Now we are banning cluster bombs. What’s next, bullets?

    Meanwhile, Russia does what it wants, burning and maiming Georgian civilians. Where is the outrage from the world? There still trying to pin this on America!

  4. west_rhino permalink
    August 11, 2008 1:09 pm

    Let me see… how does the horde army or flotilla react to fuel air explosive or CBUs?

    How do several hundred little boghammers react to finding themselves in the midst of several thousand gallons of burning avgas floating on the surface? Remember using a fougasse to supplement Claymores?

    Given that suicide vests seem to have a few foibles common to the command detonated car bombs, wanna bet the EA-6Bs and or ECM suites might have an interesting effect on some inbound packages?

    Just a few off the top of my head, maybe out of the box answers.

  5. charbookguy permalink
    August 11, 2008 12:15 pm

    The successes of strategic bombing have often been blown out of proportions.

  6. samer rida permalink
    August 11, 2008 11:43 am

    with all my respect , hezbollah “symbolicaly” lost the southern front to the UN nation, and not to israel , can you imagine that a group of guerrilas to hold a front line for 33 days against the middle east most powerfull army , this ain’t a defeat for hezbollah, i even say it is a victory for them a tactical one at least, because the israeli strategic bombing was THE single most important factor in that war for israel, israel didn’t achieve any thing on the ground , but it bombed residential neighborhood in beirut suburbs and bridges all over the country.


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