America Must Not Underestimate Iran's Navy (Or Else)

Mark Episkopos

Key point: Just because Iran is woefully outmatched in pitched combat doesn’t mean that it can’t be used to challenge US power in other, more asymmetric ways.

As Washington and Tehran descend further down an escalatory spiral, the prospect of armed conflict with Iran is increasingly treated as an inevitability by its supporters. Meanwhile, detractors are urging the Trump administration to avoid what they see as an avertable military quagmire.

Media coverage of the ongoing Iran issue has largely focused on domestic and international ramifications, but what would a war with Iran actually look like? In particular, what are Iran’s military capabilities on the ground, in the air, and on the sea? The answer is more nuanced than it may appear. The National Interest previously looked at the state of the Iranian air force (IRIAF). We now turn to Iran’s surface navy.

A cursory overview of Iran’s surface vessel inventory suggests that the Iranian navy is in dire straits, and appearances are not wholly misleading. The situation has only worsened over the past several years; Iran’s modernized Damavand destroyer, laid down in 2013, sank in 2018 after colliding with the jetty of the Iranian Bandar Abbas harbor where she was stationed. Meanwhile, the two ancient Babr destroyers that Iran procured from the US Navy during the 1970’s were wisely taken out of action by the turn of the 21st century.

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