Is Iran building another ‘stealth’ missile boat? – analysis

Iran may be slightly increasing its naval threats to the region by building a new missile boat, which appears to be under construction, according  H.I. Sutton at USNI News.

Sutton also writes at the website Covert Shores where he is an expert on naval issues. “A new vessel has been observed under construction in Iran,” according to satellite imagery, the article says.

“The unidentified catamaran is characterized by a clean-angled form, appearing stealthier than earlier types, and could be a missile boat.”

H.I. Sutton

This isn’t the first vessel of this type Iran has rolled out. Sutton detailed another 65 meter catamaran-type vessel launched last July. It was also a large stealthy design. This current vessel is being built at a shipyard on the island of Qeshm. There are other vessels visible in the images.  

The new Iranian stealth ship building was noticed by UAE media which highlighted the story. This shows that the new ship is of importance to Gulf states that are concerned about Iran destabilizing the region. 

An Iranian missile is displayed during a rally marking the annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan in Tehran, Iran April 29, 2022. (credit: MAJID ASGARIPOUR/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY) VIA REUTERS)

“The new boat is seen next to another new missile catamaran, a Shahid Soleimani-class missile corvette. This is also a stealth-influenced design, appearing generally modern. The new type bears some similarities in overall form but is noticeably smaller. It measures about 166 feet, or 150 meters, long and 46 feet, or 14 meters, across.” Sutton notes that the new vessel has “two cut-outs in the aft deck that are indicative of pop-up missile tubes. These are likely for 4-8 Noor or Qader anti-ship missiles, which are Iranian derivatives of the Chinese C-802 family of sea-skimming missiles, roughly equivalent to the famous Harpoon and Neptune types.” 

This is important because Iran has continued to harass ships in the Persian Gulf and seeks to confront the US. The Iranian navy and the IRGC navy, which are two separate navies, are not very large. The IRGFC has numerous fast boats but Iran’s two naval arms lack real power. Iran has several ships capable of blue water operations far from home. Iran’s IRGC has also sought to send assets as far as the Red Sea, but overall Iran’s navy is more about harassing enemies, or raiding civilian tankers to kidnap them, then doing real naval operations.  

Sutton notes that while the IRGC navy is “still commonly associated with lightly armed speed boats and other novel craft, the IRGC-N is modernizing. And it’s increasingly building vessels that rival the regular navy.” What that means is that soon the IRGC could be putting larger ships to sea.

Catamarans are an interesting choice for Iran’s IRGC. “Their overall form suggests efforts to reduce their radar signature. But their main armament remains typical, consisting of four of the ubiquitous C-802 missiles.”  

Why Catamarans?

Catamarans as a design can be useful for speed and stability, and other countries use them. The US Navy Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport (EPF) is a type of fast transport ship that can reach speeds of 45 knots. China makes the Type 22 missile boat which was first launched in 2004 and which is a high speed and also stealthy design. Taiwan also makes the Tuo Chiang-class corvette which can make speeds of 45 knots and is around 60 meters long. They began to be commissioned in 2014.

This means Iran is making missile boats that have a background in Asia. Sutton notes that “they could operate as command vessels for swarms of smaller boats armed with rockets, torpedoes, mines, lightweight anti-ship missiles and drones. They could also operate independently, offering a longer-range arm of the IRGC. Either way, the two new types of catamaran are likely to spearhead the IRGC-N’s modernization.” 

Iran has harassed US ships in the Persian Gulf over the last years. The Iranian Harth 55 harassed a US Coast Guard vessel in March, and in June, the IRGC harassed the USNS Choctaw County and USS Sirocco. Choctaw County is one of the US catamaran type transport ships. Ironically then, Iran is building catamaran-type ships to harass similar US ships.

US Central Command said on June 21 “Patrol coastal ship USS Sirocco (PC 6) and expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Choctaw County (T-EPF 2) were conducting a routine transit in international waters when three Iranian fast inshore attack craft approached.” 

Iran puts emphasis on producing more vessels and showing off its naval power. It has put drones on ships and it has also seized tankers in recent years, including Greek ships. It has used drones to attack a tanker and used naval mines.

Iran is also continuing to export oil. It has close relations with Syria and Venezuela, as well as Russia and China. A recent report in Fars News says Iran has increased exports of gas condensate in the last year to some 440,000 barrels per day.

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