They just had a 5.0 quake in Iran, and I noticed that the fault runs right along the shore…
While watching C-Span, a meeting of security agencies and congress focused on ‘Threats to U.S. National Security’; there was an interesting exchange.
When questioning someone in uniform with a LOT of medals (that I think was Lt. General Burgess) there was a question about Iran and closing the Strait of Hormuz. His answer was along the lines of ~”Iran could close the Strait for a limited time.” and any statement beyond that he would want to take ‘to closed session’. That engendered a modestly innocuous question for clarification ( how long is a ‘limited time’?), that was again met with ‘I would rather go to closed session’…
So why would that length of time issue be so sensitive?
Nature of threat: Perhaps the good General did not want to tell Iran where we were most worried. Which threat would work best.
Nature of response: Perhaps the way we would mitigate that threat, or recover from it, is secret.
Position of forces: A statement of ‘we could open it in a week’ says too much about what capabilities are positioned ‘nearby’.
Intelligence capabilities: To say “it could be closed by land missiles from FOO for a month” would show what we knew and hint at how we knew it.
Potentially embarrassing and / or encouraging to Iran: To say in open session that ‘temporarily’ might be 1 year would be highly encouraging to Iran, demonstrate our weakness, and show just how little we could do to reopen the strait in any economically sensitive time window.
Work In Progress: To say they could close it for ‘a few days or weeks’ might imply we have a work in progress that they did not desire to expose. Perhaps to properly explain the ‘issue’, the good General would need to say “Iran has a fleet of mini-subs that can lay mines and some shore missiles being put in place. We are taking those assets out of action in May, so until that time they can close the gulf for a month or two, after that date, it will be much harder for them to effectively close the strait”.
Yes, all of this is just rampant speculation based on one ‘decline to comment’. Yet, something about ‘how long is short’ was a sensitive issue.
Looking At The Map
In looking at the map of shipping lanes, they are about 5 km wide, each way. A very large tanker is about 1/3 km long. Even if a couple of them were ‘dropped’ perfectly perpendicular to the lane, it would not be completely closed. The largest tankers take about 34 meters of depth (height) and 25 meters of draft (below waterline), so a shipping lane of 50 m depth is preferred, but even that 25-50 meter depth range could be used in an emergency (with some very careful bottom mapping and navigation).
Basically, you can’t block the strait with a few tankers sunk. It has to be a more ‘dynamic’ blocking.
Type: ULCC (Ultra Large Crude Carrier) (V-Plus)
Gross: 234,006 GT
Net: 162,477 NT
Dwt: 441,585 DWT
Displacement: 67,829 long tons light ship; 509,484 long tons full load
LOA (Length overall): 380 m (1,250 ft)
Breadth: 68 m (223 ft)
Depth: 34 m (112 ft)
Draught: 24.525 m (80.46 ft)
Capacity: 441,585 DWT, 3,166,353 barrels (503,409,900 l)
The distance to the shipping lanes is about 20 to 30 km per my eyeball of the graph. That implies a pretty good missile in both range and accuracy. That the bottom of the navigable channels is about 25 to 50 meters below the bottoms of the shipping implies simple bottom mines would be ‘workable’ especially if they have a large explosive charge, and a tethered mine would need to be on a modest tether. (A full oil tanker is not a very robust structure to a ‘lifting charge’ mid keel…)
Laying mines in the alternative channels as an ‘area denial’ approach is likely of value, closing the shipping channels with mines would be more difficult, but quite workable. Tethered mines can work in a few hundred meters of depth, but are fairly easy to ‘mine sweep’. Still, if even one sinks a tanker the oil will stop for weeks. We have some mines that will ‘pursue’ a ship for several km, but I don’t know if Iran has such an ability.
Generally, this mine type is set to float just below the surface of the water or as deep as five meters. A steel cable connecting the mine to an anchor on the seabed prevents it from drifting away. The explosive and detonating mechanism is contained in a buoyant metal or plastic shell. The depth below the surface at which the mine floats can be set so that only deep draft vessels such as aircraft carriers, battleships or large cargo ships are at risk, saving the mine from being used on a less valuable target. In littoral waters it is important to ensure that the mine does not become visible when the sea level falls at low tide, so the cable length is adjusted to take account of tides. Even during the Second World War, there were mines that could be moored in 300m-deep water (Example: The U.S. Mark 6).
The moored mine is the backbone of modern mine systems. They are deployed where water is too deep for bottom mines. They can use several kinds of instruments to detect an enemy, usually a combination of acoustic, magnetic and pressure sensors, or more sophisticated optical shadows or electro potential sensors. These cost many times more than contact mines. Moored mines are effective against most kinds of ships. As they are cheaper than other anti-ship weapons they can be deployed in large numbers, making them useful area denial or “channelizing” weapons. Moored mines usually have lifetimes of more than 10 years, and some almost unlimited. These mines usually weigh 200 kg (440 lb), including 80 kg (175 lb) of explosives (hexatonal). In excess of 150 kg (330 lb) of explosives the mine becomes inefficient, as it becomes too large to handle and the extra explosives add little to the mine’s effectiveness
Clearly the whole Strait is vulnerable to such mines. Yet they are fairly easy to detect and remove.
Bottom mines are used when the water is no more than 60 meters (180 ft) deep or when mining for submarines down to around 200 meters (660 ft). They are much harder to detect and sweep, and can carry a much larger warhead than a moored mine. Bottom mines commonly utilize multiple types of sensors, which are less sensitive to sweeping.
These mines usually weigh between 150 and 1,500 kilograms (330 to 3,300 pounds), including between 125 and 1,400 kg (275 to 3,090 pounds) of explosives
So I could easily see the deployment of a set of bottom mines to deny the shallower alternative shipping areas, and even in the main channel to assure no US subs could enter / leave.
Then there is the question of “Does Iran have swimming mines or ‘torpedo mines’?”
The torpedo mine is a self-propelled variety, able to lie in wait for a target and then pursue it e.g. the CAPTOR mine. Other designs such as the Mk 67 Submarine Launched Mobile Mine (which is based on a Mark 37 torpedo) are capable of swimming as far as 10 miles through or into a channel, harbor, shallow water area and other zones which would normally be inaccessible to craft laying the device. After reaching the target area they sink to the sea bed and act like conventionally laid influence mines. Generally, torpedo mines incorporate computerised acoustic and magnetic fuzes.
The U.S. Mark 24 “mine”, code-named FIDO, was actually an ASW homing torpedo. The mine designation was disinformation to conceal its function.
A mixed set of bottom mines and tethered mines in the main channel with bottom mines in the shallower area would certainly present difficulties to our military naval vessels and even one explosion would likely halt oil shipping based just on insurance being withdrawn and the risk to shipping being unacceptable to the ship masters. IF they have torpedo mines as well, things could be unstable for a very long time.
Add in shore launched missiles ( at both shipping and US naval vessels such as mine sweepers) and you have a fairly effective closure.
This link has an in depth exploration of Iranian mine laying abilities:
They have 3 different submarine classes that can lay mines and up to thousands of surface ships that might do so. It also has a data table on the Iranian anti-ship missles ( Raad, Noor, Kosar) with ranges of 360 km, 150 km, and 20 km respectively. There is also a very nice 3-D map of the Gulf that helps to understand the mountainous terrain of Iran and the way that the gulf rapidly shallows on the side of Arabia. Basically, the deep water is next to very mountainous and hard to capture land in Iran.
But: For how long and: why is that a sensitive issue?
My bald assertion, and with nothing much to support it, is that it all comes down to the shore launched missiles acting as ‘top cover’ to the mining operation. To clear mines would require surface operations. To conduct surface operations would require removal of shore launch facilities. To remove shore launch facilities would require attacking (and most likely capture) of the shore. By my estimate, over about a 500 km length of shoreline. That is, IMHO, effectively an invasion of Iran. The start of a new regional war and, given the nature of the Iranian regime as hard core fanatics, would necessarily escalate to a full on occupation of Iran.
I suspect THAT is the reason that they wanted to go to closed session. To explain that “it would be temporary” in that we could win a war in Iran after a large quantity of damage was done.
There is some support for this conclusion from that Inegma report:
What is unclear is if the conflict escalates or not and if it does then to what extent (if its remains limited to the Strait of Hormuz or spreads to ‘other’ fronts) when Iranian ports, supply depots, and military bases housing missile launch sites are attacked – because they would necessarily need to be neutralized if pre-emptive or preventative military action was taken. Under these circumstances, would Iranian nuclear facilities also be attacked? If this was done, Iranian ballistic missile storage and launch sites would also have to be destroyed in order to neutralize the retaliatory capability of Iran. Under such circumstances, the conflict would probably escalate to total war and the U.S. and its allies will encounter Iranian-linked groups in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan unleashing a wave of attacks against U.S., Israeli and Western targets and destabilizing the wider region stretching from Egypt to Pakistan. Gauging possible Iranian reaction to having its core military and critical national interest sites attacked can only be hypothetical, but it is vitally important in weighing up the emerging regional security environment and forecasting the balances of power that will exist within it. While the nature and complexities of the possibility a total war between the United States and Iran are too complex to summarize here, they are too important to not mention as a passing note
Hmmm… One wonders if ‘passing note’ is a euphemism for “lets take this one private to discuss”…
I had this following link in a comment on another thread (the 700 miles to Hose Iran posting I think). It does a very nice job of illuminating the Iranian naval vessels:
Conclusions and Speculations
In this context, it is important to remember the theology (of the FOLKS IN CHARGE) of Iran includes an ‘end times’ catastrophe and then the arrival of the Twelfth Imam:
Twelver Shi’as cite various references from the Qur’an and reports, or Hadith, from Imam Mahdi and the the Twelve Imams with regard to the reappearance of al-Mahdi who would, in accordance with Allah’s command, bring justice and peace to the world by establishing Islam throughout the world.
Mahdi is reported to have said:
Shi’as believe that Imam al-Mahdi will reappear when the world has fallen into chaos and civil war emerges between the human race for no reason. At this time, it is believed, half of the true believers will ride from Yemen carrying white flags to Makkah, while the other half will ride from Karbala, in Iraq, carrying black flags to Makkah. At this time, Imam al-Mahdi will come wielding Allah’s Sword, the Blade of Evil’s Bane, Zulfiqar (Arabic: ذو الفقار, ðū l-fiqār), the Double-Bladed Sword. He will also come and reveal the texts in his possession, such as al-Jafr and al-Jamia.
Shi’as believe that Jesus will also come (after Imam Mahdi’s re-appearance) and follow the Imam Mahdi to destroy tyranny and falsehood and to bring justice and peace to the world.
These folks (running Iran) fundamentally desire the return of the Twelfth Imam and for the world to fall “into chaos and civil war”. This mythology is at the core of their being and religion. There can be no dissuasion of them from confrontation leading to war and chaos as that is their ultimate goal. Peace and international civil order is anathema to them.
So, my speculation and conclusions:
I think ‘total war’ with Iran is inevitable. They desire it. They are working toward it. They are sowing Chaos everywhere they can and peace is NOT on their agenda. WHEN they get a nuclear weapon, it will be used. Israel will be dramatically damaged. Oil supplies globally will be disrupted for months, if not a year or two. That would, quite certainly, throw the world into civil war and chaos in many areas, if not most of them.
There is little the USA can do to prevent this. Iran is setting it’s own trajectory, and that trajectory is toward the “chaos” and “civil war” they desire and laud. They know it is their holy destiny to bring about the return of the Twelfth Imam, and for us to say “let’s be peaceful and delay that day” is just silly in their eyes (IMHO).
The longer we wait, the more Iran builds, and the worse will be the outcome. Yet, we wait.
I think THAT is what the good General did not want to state in public. That we are, inevitably, going to have a major war with Iran and it will not go as easily or as well as Iraq or Afghanistan. Waiting makes it worse, and moving faster makes for terrible politics. We are going to be pulled into a conflict on the battle ground and at the time of choosing of our opponent. That is typically a very bad thing.
But this is based on a fair amount of speculation and ‘projection’ ( I’d call it ‘prediction’ but that term seems to be falling from use, at least in “climate science” circles ;-) so could easily be quite wrong.
I’ve left out the dynamics from the other Gulf States. Saudi Arabia, for example, has a decent army and lots of capabilities. (I’m not up to speed on their Navy, however). The Sunni typically see the Shia as being worse than infidels as they corrupt the true faith (in their eyes). So there is the potential for an inter-Muslim war aspect (that both sides might actually want…) The disruption THAT would bring to oil shipping is hard to quantify but quite large.
I’ve left out the European involvement and what that might mean.
I’ve left out the UN (but since they rarely managed to actually accomplish anything, that’s a minor omission ;-)
And I’ve left out the potential for global jihad / terrorist attacks. (But aren’t we already in that realm?…)
At any rate, it looks to me like we’re on a collision course with Iran, that it will be set off when Iran wants it to happen and via mine laying / shore missiles – UNLESS we take preemptive action unilaterally. That could not be said in public. Nor could we detail the ‘methods and means’ either of gathering the intelligence or crafting the response. But I could be wrong, so the question for you you all is “What have I missed?”…