Key Point: Iran is currently incapable of sinking a U.S. Navy carrier, but that is not an advantage the Pentagon can count on enjoying forever.
The United States and Iran have been on bad terms—occasionally spilling into open hostility—since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. One instrument of American policy and prestige in the Middle East region are the aircraft carriers of the U.S. Navy. The Iranian government is well known to despise these offshore platforms of American power, and that leads us to this question: if the two sides came to blows, does Iran have the firepower to sink an American carrier?
Experts and outside observers believe that Iran has given considerable thought to vanquishing an American aircraft carrier. In January 2015, Adm. Ali Fadavi of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy claimed his force was capable of sinking American aircraft carriers in the event of war. One month later, during the Noble Prophet 9 exercises conducted in the Straits of Hormuz, Iran constructed a mock aircraft carrier and proceeded to attack it. The attack was carried out with antiship missiles, mines and a simulated commando raid, which involved troops landing on the flight deck via helicopter and attacking the carrier’s superstructure.
According to the Office of Naval Intelligence, Iranian naval forces are split between two organizations, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN). The former is a more traditional navy with a more traditional role of guarding Iranian naval interests and projecting power in the outer Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean regions, with larger frigate-sized warships. The IRGCN, on the other hand, focuses more on smaller, fast-moving, heavily armed ships for an antiaccess, area-denial role in the inner Persian Gulf against Iran’s neighbors and the United States. The IRGCN also controls Iran’s shore-based antiship missiles.