Can a Speedboat Sink a Carrier? Pt 1
In an operation worthy of the Israelis, the Iranians have acquired an advanced British-built speedboat designed for sustained high speeds. The fear is they will be used in suicide attacks against US warships, especially aircraft carriers since these are ultimate symbols of power and might. Story is from the Globe and Mail:
Iran has outwitted U.S. and British efforts to keep it from acquiring a superfast powerboat that could be loaded with high explosives and used in a suicidal attack against one of the huge U.S. aircraft carriers deployed to the Persian Gulf.
Unidentified intelligence sources quoted in published reports say Tehran’s Islamic regime managed to acquire the Bradstone Challenger, a 15-metre-long craft designed especially for sustained high speeds, early last year.
While naval analysts differ over whether a serious threat exists from so-called swarm attacks by such fast small boats against larger, less-maneuverable warships, fears that the rulers in Tehran wanted to use the high-tech Bradstone Challenger – which averaged nearly 100 kilometers an hour in a record-breaking 27-hour circumnavigation of Britain – as a weapon prompted both Washington and London to try to block any sale.
Is there a threat? It was serious enough for the US government to try and block the sale, lobbying harder than they did the giant Mistral amphibious carrier from reaching Russia! In all truth though, speedboats against major surface vessels haven’t faired so well historically, as the article points out:
Small-boat attacks on modern warships face long odds. The Tamil Tigers attacked cargo vessels with explosives-laden launches with some success. Against Sri Lankan warships they rarely succeeded. In 1991, after Iraq invaded Kuwait and a U.S.-led coalition attacked Iraq, a Canadian CF-18 warplane joined U.S. aircraft in destroying a flotilla of small Iraqi patrol vessels. Automatic, radar-controlled Gatling guns designed to destroy incoming sea-skimming missiles traveling hundreds of kilometers an hour would face no difficulty engaging even the fastest patrol boat. Helicopters firing heat-seeking or radar-guided missiles have been used to defend warships against small-boat attacks and the U.S. and other navies practice against such attacks routinely.
Something to consider though is the use of asymmetric tactics at sea, which have been very effective in changing the world’s mightiest armies. As for helicopters versus speedboats, New Wars has posted on this before.
…some small boat navies, notably Iran, practice swarming tactics which might overwhelm the handful of choppers our rapidly shrinking fleet will be able to deploy, unless of course you plan to have a carrier with you at all times…We can only conclude that to make a permanent effort against small boat threats, you would need a more sustainable platform to defend against and to launch strikes against them as well….Their ability to sustain contact with any fast boats is greater than that of the helicopter, and some can be equipped with aircraft themselves, preferably the Fire Scout UAV which can be armed with Hellfire.
Craig Hooper, familiar to New Wars readers, who was quoted in the original Financial Times story and now in the Globe and Mail, has since posted the following on his blog Next Navy:
…is the U.S. Navy prepared to confront a potential surprise in the Gulf? Are U.S. vessels in the region operating at a level of readiness sufficient to rebuff a surprise “out-of-the-blue” small boat attack?
Is the U.S. Navy ready? Or are U.S. warships relaxing a bit too much in the ‘ole familiar Gulf?
And in a similar vein, Starbuck at Wings Over Iraq, reminds us of a recent and very real incident:
Fast-forward to the present-day. Iran is purchasing several speedboats, and already possesses anti-ship missiles like the C802 (it was assumed that the C802 that struck the Hanit was supplied by Iran). Could a navy such as this pose a threat?
Tommorow-Iran’s Speedboat Diplomacy