Updated: Iran’s Hornets Nest at Bandar Abbas

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Iran is preparing a massive force of small but highly capable combat elements capable of disrupting oil transportation through the Persian Gulf and the Straight of Hurmoz choke point. The Iranians have developed unique operational concepts employing coordinated swarm attacks that could effectively defeat large, well protected surface combatants such as those operated by the allied naval forces present at the Gulf. Many of these Swarm elements are currently stationed at the naval base at Bandar Abbas, acting as the Swarm’s ‘Hornets Nest’ at the southern end of the Hurmoz Straits in the Persian Gulf. In recent, highly publicized naval exercises held by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’, swarm attacks were demonstrated by engaging targets from extended range by anti-ship missiles, while smaller fast boats were closing in at high speed, firing rockets and Rocket propelled Grenades (RPG) from very short range.

Bavar-2 amphibian seaplane employs the 'Wing in Ground Effect' (WIG) principle to fly low above sea level. In fact, Bavar-2 traces back to the Russian Eska-1 an early WIG planes designed in the 1970s. It is equipped with maritime surveillance equipment, and communications for recce and target acquisition over the sea. The new plane is operated by the Iranian revolutionary Guards naval units. Photo: Fars news agency, by Vahid reza Alaei.

An Iranian fast boat firing a 107mm rocket in direct fire against a naval target. Such boats are employed in swarm attacks, saturating a target defense. Photo: Fars news agency by Hossein Zohrevand.

In recent years Iran is escalating its swarm capabilities to higher levels, with the development of indigenous weapons and platforms tailored for the Persian Gulf Theater of operation. Among these elements are mini submarines, amphibian seaplanes, high speed missile boats and medium range anti-ship missiles. All are designed as compact, cost efficient element that together, creating a force multiplier that cannot be ignored even by the world’s largest, most capable navies.

Iranian Ghadir mini submarines are based at Bandar Abbas. Photo: FARS news agency by Vahid Reza Alaei

A key element in this ‘hornets nest’ is the Ghadir mini-submarine. The first two locally built subs were delivered in 2008 and this year during a visit at the base four subs were visible. These submarines built for short missions operating at shallow water, carrying out coastal reconnaissance, mine laying and engagement of surface targets, including moving vessels and oil rigs. Mining by submarines could become one of Iran’s modus operandi as detection or attribution of such action to the actual perpetrator is almost impossible.

Another element of the hornets nest was unveiled this week, as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards naval units displayed over a dozen planes during an official visit of the Guards’ commander, brig. General Ahmad vahidi at Bandar Abbas. Unveiled as a prototype in 2006, Bavar-2 is designed to operate as a rapid reaction force, equipped with aerial cameras and communications links transmitting images in real-time to command centers at sea or on land. The seaplane is also equipped with a machine gun. It is flown by a single pilot and is fitted to operate in day or night, using night vision devices.

In August 2010 the Iranians unveiled the ‘sting’ of the hornets – the new Zulfikar fast patrol boats (shown in the video below), an all-aluminum built fast boat armed with Iranian-made Nasr-1 medium range anti-ship missiles. (actually, an Iranian version of the Chinese C-704 missile). The Iranians plan to deploy large numbers of these boats, armed with the locally produced missiles, being able to saturate the defenses of highly protected surface vessels.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards naval forces unveiled the first amphibian aircraft squadron at Bandar Abbas in September 2010. Photo: Mehr News Agency

The new Bavar-2 Wind in Ground Effect (WIG) amphibian seaplane, designed to perform short range maritime surveillance, coastal patrol and provide target acquisition for the Zulfiqar fast boats, enabling them to launch their missiles at maximum range, thus avoiding counter attack from the surface. As a WIG amphibian, Bavar-2 has unique capabilities to ‘sea skim’ just above wave-top level, or perch at sea level, thus evading detection by hostile radars. Typically, such planes cruise at a speed of 130 km/h and perform optimally at an altitude of few meters above the sea although, technically some WIG designs can reach a maximum altitude of 300 meters.

In times of crisis it is assumed that the fast boats, submarines and seaplanes will disperse to many coastal locations, from where they will be able to launch surprise attacks against merchant ships, tankers or military targets. The submarines and amphibians will provide the eyes and ears for the missile carrying fast fast boats, which could group into attack swarms to strike and disperse immediately after it, thus making it difficult for the enemy to launch an effective counter strike.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. It seems to me to be a typical “Kamikaze” type of weapons. You (in the “Defense-Update”) make much to much of it! Exactly the same, as you did, desribing the Iranian “Krakar”-drone (or whatever its name). You desribed it as almost a kind of some super-weapon, with “great” capabilities, when in fact this “Ambassador of death” is NOT that much more advanced, that the Nazi Germany’s terror flying bomb, or the very first cruise missile, the V-1. All those small flying boats, mini-submarines and fast motor-boats with their small rockets & small missiles will be bombed into oblivion by US/NATO air force in their “Hornets-nests”, or totally blown-out from the waters/skies, if they try anything! It remaids me of the very heroic, but totally desperate attacks by the Iraqi Army riding their “swarms” of Toyota 4X4 trucks with heavy submachine guns, attacking US Bradley APCs & M-1 tanks, and being blown-out, massacred & annihilated! The very same, and very inefficient Kamikaze-suicaidal strategy seems to apply to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards!

    • On the contrary, the small seaplane is nothing much in itself. It is a pair of eyes linked to a camera and a transmitter in the sky. However, considering the entire system of simple but effective sensors, underwater capability, fast boats and extended attack capability by multiple anti-ship missiles, creates a naval capability that would significantly challenge modern navies. Remember that the Iranians are not after defeating the U.S. Navy but effectively closing the Hormoz straits, drawing the world into major oil crisis. The assets and techniques they openly demonstrate could be quite effective as the sea lanes of the oil tankers pass close to their bases. Given the will and opportunity, they could cause significant problems and to be able to overcome the threat they must be regarded respectively as a potential, capable foe.

      About Karrar, we never mentioned term of ‘ambassador of death’ used by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as we think it is a bit biased… However, Karrar, even with its relatively old fashioned technology, could pose a significant threat to fixed targets – we mentioned the missile defense radars associated with Gulf Missile Defense systems currently under establishment – as a potential target at risk, without these radars, the entire missile defense system is blind. Again, Karrar could be employed in multiple coordinated attacks to saturate the defenses and score just one hit that will take the down the whole defense system.

  2. Well Tamir, you are fully intitled to your opinion. However, my view is as follows: The US spy satellites (as well as IAF’s IAI TECSAR & Ofek 5/7/9 family), have the full, and continously updated mapping of all the “Hornets Nests” close to shores of Hormoz straits, and along all the shores of Arabian Gulf. The same goes for all the bases harboring mini-submaries, fast patrol missile/rocket armed motor-boats, these flying mini-boats presented here, as well as hangars hiding Karrar jet-drones. The very same goes even for the hidden, shore-based batteries of Chinese (made in Iran under license) C-802 shore-to-sea missiles, mounted on the lorries/heavy trucks. You just CANNOT hide away such quite large and cumbersome objects during any longer time from the satellites sensitve to the infra-red warm emmission, magnetic waves (TECSAR), and high quality optics, “seeing” objects just 40 cm long (during daylight), i.e. the US and Israeli satellites, which possess just such capabilities. Beacuse of that, 95% off Iranian offensive capacity is going to be totally annihilated by US Navy air force, US Air Force (from Iraq), and NATO air forces during the first couple of hours in any future comflict of any magnitude. And that’s because US & NATO have, and is going to continue to have, a total, 100% air-superiority over Iranian skies & Iranian waters.

    • If all goes as planned, you are correct, assuming that the U.S. is doing their job as they should, correctly assess the threat (not under or over estimating), willing to take pre-emptive action and not being confused or distracted by counter-intelligence and deception techniques which the Iranians are mastering. Part of our mission at Defense-Update, beyond reporting the news is also to highlight trends and assess their meaning, and that’s what we do with the masses of information (and false info) that comes off Iran. We try to highlight what the news means, and emphasize any trends that represent new opportunities or unfolding threats.

  3. You are absolutely correct, Tamir – and good luck with your work!! Of course, plenty of Iranian “new” weapon-systems are made mainly for the internal consumption, for their huge, uneducated, sometimes semi-litterate masses (to make these masses “happy”) – their value on the battlefield is very questionable. They are made in state-owned weapon factories, heavily (over 100%) subsidied by their very large oil/gas incomes – in stead of rising the level of welth for their people with their oil money, they produce mostly good-for-nothing metal junk in those factories. But, in any future serious confrontaion much depends, if US forces make their lesson regarding collecting current, up-to-date inteligence. If they do, it will be a relatively easy & quick match, won by US & NATO air-forces in some few hours; if they don’t, it will be a kaos at the beginning, and then a harder, mere costly & longer operation. And, of course, even as I estimate the current tactics & strategy of Iranian Revolutionary Guards being one of much suicidal / Kamikaze type, you should never underestimate your enemy – but I believe that US & NATO forces by now know this truth.

  4. Yes, I can just see the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ “swarm” strategy applied using their poor man’s copies of the Soviet Union’s 37 YEARS OLD ESKA-1 design. This “swarm” together with IRG’s fast sport boats, pimped-up with ejection ramps for small unguided rockets and very small semi-guided missiles, and 1 HMG, and painted navy-grey. Such “swarms” would meet the same destiny as the swarm of North Vietnamese Navy REAL torpedo-boats in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964. Or even so much more so, the “swarms” of the Iraqi Republican Guard’s Toyota 4X4 pick-ups equipped with 1 HMG each, heroically and absolutely desperately attacking columns of US Bradley IFVs, and being totally annihilated by the fire from their automatic cannons. I am sure, that Iranian Revolutionary Guards are brave young men, totally & fanatically committed to their Islam cause, and without ANY doubts readily ready for any sacrifice, including their own lives – but, it would be so totally meaningless for them to meet their death in thousands, i.e. to be massacred in masses, without achieving ANYTHING at all, in these “Hornet Nests” Kamikaze-suicidal “swarming” attacks against the US Navy, and eventually even against the Royal Navy.

  5. Swarming by its very nature is short lived and the swarmers suffer huge loses. The Iranians may score some success of course but in a protracted fight (weeks), they will punch themselves out and we’ll devastate their bases and production faculties. It will be ugly for them and they’ll still be friendless and then soon defenseless. All we need now is a provocation to preempted them in their nest and they seem determined to give it to us.

  6. Although commercial shipping might be susceptable to attacks (Swarming or otherwise) by these aircraft that look like a Disney kiddy ride, they can’t hide from military radar, which is not limited in deployment only on ships. They can be detected in the water when taking off, landing or idling their engines. They can be seen from above with AWACS and satellites using radar, heat signature and optics. Their lovely fast boats are not invisible either, nor are they fast enough to outrun a few thousand bullets. Any and all of these weapons systems can be obliterated, using weapons already in the US arsenal. Swarming would seem to mean that you could take out a whole bunch with one shot. If you recall, the USS Cole was attacked by a very slow moving motor boat that got closer than anything has been allowed to do since. Even if the kiddy planes are not armed but are meant for targeting and communications, their ability to do so can be defeated easily. Besides, you don’t even have to take them or the boats out if you disable or obliterate their command and control systems. Personally, I think they should demilitarize the planes and open an amusement park. I wouldn’t mind getting one of their boats to go fishing. It’s all bluster and postering. The only beneficiaries of their military buildup I can think of is our own armaments business. They helped close our biggest sale yet to the Saudis. Attacking shipping, Saudi Arabia or (give me a break) US military forces (The 5th Fleet) would be suicidal, not just for the swarm, but for their current government. Perhaps it’s all for domestic consumption.

  7. All you rednecks on this forum talking about the quick Destruction of Iranian military might. I will say 4 words….Afghanistan/Iraq/lebanon/Lybia….when the US leaves Afghanistan after 12-15 years of fighting, their tales will be between their legs. When they leave Iraq, it will be a pro Iran nation hostile to the USA… and god knows what will happen to Lybia, but months of fight so far, with NATOs “advanced air superiority” has done nothing to dent that nasty regime! A 2 week campain is turning into a months long campaign… and you believe that the Iranian nation will succumb to “advanced air superiority”? What happened in Lebanon?? 2006?? this militia in south Lebanon gave Israel its worst defeat and you expect Iran to be defeated in a matter of weeks? Do you understand that the strength of Iran does not rely soly on it’s weaponry? America has focused on military superiority to whip out enemies, yet is having it’s behind handing to it by Afghanis in sandals! Iran Vs America will be a repeat of israel Vs hizbollah… If you don’t know what happened there, look it up :)

  8. The deployment of the Iranian amphibious planes seems to occur in concert with swarming from other sources and mediums. Ground or sea launched cruise missiles, fast attack boats, mini submarines (mine laying), etc.
    Given the narrowness of the Hormuz strait, it would take merely mining of the strait to bring all traffic to a halt.

    For all its rhetoric, Iran could make it very painful to seaborne adversaries seeking control of the waterway.
    Strategically the US might eventually prevail, but at what cost, and over how long an interruption?
    These are variants that could render any battlefield engagements into a pyrrhic victory.

    In spite of all its might and power, the US cannot occupy Iran, the best they might achieve is a less hostile regime, but if these war scenarios ever play out, we will be lucky to retain electricity and running water in our homes… wherever that may be.

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