The Next Middle Eastern Conflict: U.S. Aircraft Carriers vs. Iranian Speedboats

Who wins?

By Zach

The New York Times led with a story this morning on increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran in the Persian Gulf, specifically the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran is threatening to close off to shipments of oil from countries like Kuwait and Qatar (i.e. a big “F You” to the United States). Even though Iran is essentially the Pinocchio of geopolitics, and there’s a very good chance that such a blockade would never happen, this could have huge implications for the oil industry.

But I’m not here to talk about that. Gator’s more interested in the chance of the U.S. and Iranian navies throwing down in an epic, unconventional clash. The second half of that article talks about how Iran’s been developing its navy, and how if it indeed it closes the strait the U.S. will likely respond militarily:

Pentagon officials, who plan for every contingency, said that, however unlikely, Iran does have the military capability to close the strait. Although Iran’s naval forces are hardly a match for those of the United States, for two decades Iran has been investing in the weaponry of “asymmetric warfare” — mines, fleets of heavily armed speed boats and antiship cruise missiles hidden along Iran’s 1,000 miles of Persian Gulf coastline — which have become a threat to the world’s most powerful navy.

“The simple answer is yes, they can block it,” General Dempsey said on CBS on Sunday.

Later, the Iranian navy is described as having a “high potential for buffoonery” and any potential conflict as being like “a knife fight in a phone booth.” But to top it off, the U.S. has already played a war game for this very situation:

In 2002, a classified, $250 million Defense Department war game concluded that small, agile speedboats swarming a naval convoy could inflict devastating damage on more powerful warships. In that game, the Blue Team navy, representing the United States, lost 16 major warships — an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious vessels — when they were sunk to the bottom of the Persian Gulf in an attack that included swarming tactics by enemy speedboats.

“The sheer numbers involved overloaded their ability, both mentally and electronically, to handle the attack,” Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper, a retired Marine Corps officer who served in the war game as commander of a Red Team force representing an unnamed Persian Gulf military, said in 2008, when the results of the war game were assessed again in light of Iranian naval actions at the time. “The whole thing was over in 5, maybe 10 minutes.”

Holy shit! Their speedboats might sink our aircraft carriers? That wasn’t just the Joint Chiefs playing Risk, it was a $250 million war game! (Which also begs the question, how is it possible to spend that much on an imaginary conflict?)

Anyway, it’s probably not going to happen, because Iran’s probably too focused on protecting at least a couple of their nuclear scientists from Mossad, but it’s a pretty intriguing, albeit hypothetical, scenario.

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