Key point: It wouldn't be as easy as in the 1980s.
The Iranian navy is about to get a little bit bigger. But it’s still hopelessly outclassed by rival fleets. The naval imbalance could weigh on diplomatic and military strategies in Tehran, Washington, D.C. and other world capitals as tensions escalate in the Persian Gulf region.
The navy in August 2019 announced it will return to service the frigate Damavand following 18 months of repairs. Damavand in January 2018 collided with a pier, killing two sailors and badly damaging the vessel.
Damavand should rejoin the fleet before the end of 2019, the navy stated.
Damavand is part of Iran’s Caspian Sea fleet. The landlocked Caspian Sea borders Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Ships in the Caspian fleet realistically cannot play any direct role in a conflict on the Persian Gulf.
Not that Damavand’s disposition would make any difference either way in a shooting war on the Gulf. While technically one of Iran’s newest warships, the four-year-old frigate is small, lightly-armed and likely obsolete compared to the major front-line vessels in the fleets of Iran’s potential enemies.
“Small,” “lightly-armed” and “likely obsolete” describes the entire Iranian navy. Tehran’s fleet has fared badly in direct combat with the navies of larger powers.
Damavand is one of three Moudge-class frigates in Iranian service. Four more reportedly are under construction. Iran operates one ship, Sahand, that is a slightly larger version of the Moudge class.
The Moudges are reverse-engineered copies of Iran’s British-designed, 1970s-vintage Alvand-class frigates, three of which remain in service.
The seven Moudges and Alvands are the biggest and most powerful surface ships in the Iranian fleet. Tehran describes the vessels as “destroyers,” but displacing around 1,500 tons of water the ships actually are corvettes or light frigates by international naval standards.
The Moudges and Alvands are equipped with radars and armed with guns plus a few short-range, shoulder- and tube-launched anti-air and anti-ship missiles.