Submarines: The Pride Of Iran


June 11, 2011: Iran sent a Kilo class submarine to the Red Sea last month. Back home, Iran is building a new class of mini-subs. Iran has always had a yearning for subs. Back in the 1970s, the monarchy came very close to acquiring three surplus US-diesels-electric boats  as well as a new German Type 209. Iranian crews had been trained in an American submarine school, but the 1979 Islamic revolution prevented these crews from getting their boats. In the late 1980s, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy acquired a few midget subs from North Korea. These boats were capable of delivering frogmen covertly, or carrying naval mines to attack shipping and harbors.

Iran took the big leap in the early 1990s when they acquired three Kilo Project 877/636 type diesel electric submarines from Russia. The 2300 ton Kilos are long range subs capable of operating throughout the Indian Ocean (from South Africa to Australia). The Kilo’s have six 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes and 18 torpedoes (including one or more Shkval rocket torpedo), or 24 mines. Very similar to the world-standard diesel submarine, the 1800-ton German Type 209, the Kilo is a formidable foe and can stay at sea for up to 45 days, which makes it capable of long range patrols, like the current one in the Red Sea.  This, in fact, is the farthest any of the Iranian Kilos have ever travelled from home.

The last of these three Kilos were delivered in 1996, which gives Iranian crews more than a decade of experience. Google Earth has often spotted the trio tied up in harbor at Bandar Abbas; however, they have made several training cruises to the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. The recent Red Sea operation may be a game changer.

Now the bad news (if you are a fan of the Iranian Navy). Russia agreed to shut off the submarine pipeline to Iran in 1996 and since then Iran has been working on their own designs. After ten years of trial and error, they produced the 100 ton Ghadir (Qadir) class vessels in 2005. By 2010, they professed to have a fleet of 11 of these small diesel electric subs in their arsenal and no less than four have been shown together and photographed. These smaller Ghadir-class vessels are squarely between the old midget submarines and the Russian Kilos. The Iranians are not releasing specification sheets to anyone but they look very similar to the Italian made Cosmos SX-506B submarines that Columbia has operated since the 1980s. The 100-ton SX-506Bs are only large enough to carry commandos and mines. However released news footage shows what looks like to be two torpedo tubes on the Iranian craft.

It should be remembered that Cosmos exported a number of larger vessels to Pakistan in the 1990s. Dubbed the SX-756, they may have been the design basis for these Ghadir. It should also be acknowledged that the North Korean Sang-O class submarine closely approximates the Ghadir type. In 2007 North Korea gave Iran outright four of its Yugo-type midget submarines. These Yugos were well worn 90-ton 65-foot craft but Iran accepted them all the same.

A one-off design, dubbed the Nahang, was produced in 2006. At about 500-tons it is the same size as and closely resembled the old German Type-206 class. The Type 206s were produced in the 1960s for operations in the confined shallows of the Baltic. Denmark, Norway, Germany and now Indonesia used variants for forty years. The Type 206’s size enabled it to carry eight torpedo tubes with no reloads. The Iranian version does not seem to be a success and little has been seen of this craft.

Under construction is what will be the third indigenous Iranian design. Laid down in 2008, the Qaaem will be a 1000-ton craft and historically should be large enough to handle a full set of torpedo tubes along with a reload. They could be the possible replacement for Iran’s Kilos. The Kilo platform has a lifespan of 30-years and they are more than halfway there. But Iran has a mixed record when it comes to warship construction, and the Qadir boats are reported to be troublesome to use and not safe. The Iranians are enthusiastic about having more subs, but developing that capability is very expensive and time consuming.





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