Yes, Iran Could Attempt to Destroy a U.S. Aircraft Carrier

Kyle Mizokami

Key point: Tehran could succeed, but then they'd suffer the consequences.

Recent events again raise the possibility of war between the United States and Iran. The on again, off again standoff between Washington and Tehran, now in its fourth decade is periodically instigated by both sides, and each time Iran grows stronger. If Iran decides to stage an attack against a larger target, such as an American destroyer or even aircraft carrier, how might it use its missile force to do so? 

Iran has invested considerable resources in its ballistic missile forces over the past forty years, for the same reason China and North Korea did: military aviation is an expensive proposition, and developing and maintaining an air force to rival the United States is very expensive indeed. Ballistic missiles offer a relatively inexpensive way to launch conventional, chemical, biological, and even nuclear payloads long distances. As an added bonus intercepting such missiles is complex and itself an expensive undertaking. All three countries developed large ballistic missile arsenals of varying sophistication, occasionally trading in illicit information among themselves and others. 

Iran, as The National Interest pointed out, has a large and varied ballistic missile arsenal. It is difficult to pin down with certainty Iran’s capabilities, as information inside the country is tightly controlled and the government often exaggerates or is evasive regarding its military capabilities. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that Iran possesses the missiles as described by The National Interest, such as missiles with infra-red seekers for terminal guidance (Fateh Mobin) and an anti-ship ballistic missile with a 434-mile range. Iran would need such a capability to even consider hitting ships at sea. 

Perhaps just as important as having ballistic missiles is the “kill chain” of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets required to keep constant tabs on a U.S. Navy battle group, allowing Iran’s missileers to launch their missiles with the most current targeting information available. U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and their escorts can steam at speeds of up to 35 knots, making information even just an hour old useless for targeting purposes. 

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