Iran Claims It Tested A Submarine Launched Anti-Ship Missile Capable Of Standoff Strikes

Combined with larger, domestically-produced subs, the weapons could present new challenges for the country's opponents.

IRNA

Iran recently released footage showing one of its Ghadir-class submarines firing a new Jask-2 submarine-launched anti-ship cruise missile during a major drill stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, including in the highly strategic Strait of Hormuz. This came less than a week after the country commissioned the first of its larger Fateh-class subs, which reportedly also have the ability to employ these weapons.

The Jask-2 launch occurred on Feb. 24, 2019. This was the third and last day of Velayat 97, an annual exercise that included naval, air, and shore-based elements, which began on Feb. 22, 2019. The Fateh-class submarine, which is still undergoing trials, also reportedly took part in the drills, as did the Iranian Navy’s new corvette Sahand. Iran said that the missile hit a mock target, but there is no indepedent confirmation of the test's success.

"Our Qadir-class submarines have so far fired cruise missiles and Fateh has this capability too and we will display it in future drills," Iranian Navy commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi had told the semi-official Fars News Agency ahead of the exercise on Feb. 18, 2019. This implied that Iran had previously tested the Jask-2, either at sea or using a land-based test fixture.

Jask-2 is variant of derivative of the existing Nasr-1 anti-ship cruise missile and has a “different” range, according to Khanzadi. The Nasr-1 is itself a copy of the Chinese C-704, which can hit targets out to around 20 miles.

Mohammad Sadegh Heydari via Wikimedia

An Iranian Nasr-1 flies from a shore-based launcher during the Velayat-90 exercise in 2012. 

The video footage seemed to suggest that Iran had only fired one Jask-2 during the exercise, but it may have launched additional missiles. Joseph Dempsey, Research Associate for Defense and Military Analysis at the U.K.-based think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies noted on social media that the background features in different clips within the video montage indicated Iranian submarines fired at least two of the missiles.

Iran has been working on a submarine-launched cruise missile capability for some time. In 2017, there were reports that the Iranian Navy had tried and failed to launch a Jask-2.

Two years earlier, Iran released footage that it claimed was of a submarine firing a cruise missile. It’s not clear if the weapon in that case was the Jask-2 or a separate, earlier design.

We also don’t know how mature the Jask-2 design is. The video shows a Ghadir-class firing a Jask-2 while apparently running on the surface, while other clips show the submarine semi-submerged.

AP Photo/Fars News Agency, Ebrahim Norouzi

An Iranian Ghadir-class submarine.

Reports from the failed 2017 test said that the missile malfunctioned during an underwater test-launch. Launching the weapon closer to the surface could have reflected the Iranian’s still being unsure about whether the Jask-2 would fire properly from any significant depth.

The ultimate goal, of course, would be for submarines such as the Ghadirs, or the new Fateh-class, to gain a stand-off anti-ship capability while submerged or almost fully-submerged, where they are hardest to detect and least vulnerable. Both of these boats are diesel-electric, making them very quiet when submerged. They do, however, lack other advanced features, such as an air-independent propulsion system, that would allow them to remain underwater for protracted periods of time and otherwise make them difficult to spot.

IRNA

Iran's new Fateh-class submarine prior to its launch.

Even if the range of the Jask-2 is shorter than that of the Nasr-1, it could still provide a very useful capability to the Iranian Navy, especially in the narrow Strait of Hormuz. Iran has routinely threatened to blockade this strategic waterway, which a substantial portion of the world’s oil exports rely on to reach their destinations, particularly in response to American threats of additional sanctions or other actions against the regime in Tehran. The regime in Tehran also regularly criticizes the presence of the U.S. Navy in region, especially its carrier battle groups, in general.

On Feb. 1, 2019, Iranian state television broadcast the video below, showing a cartoonish approximation of a Ghadir-class submarine sinking similar caricatures of an American aircraft carrier and its escorting vessels.

“This strait will be open if Iran can sell its oil,” General Alireza Tangsiri, in charge of the naval arm of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, told the semi-official Tasnim News Agency on Feb. 25, 2019. The clearly implication is that the Iranians could seek to shut down the waterway if the United States succeeds in its efforts to push its allies and partners to stop buying the country’s oil.

There is a real question about how capable the Ghadir-class might be a missile boats, with only two torpedo tubes and little internal space for additional weapons. With more than 20 of the submarines, Iran might look to make up for their extremely limited magazine depth by employing them en masse to launch barrages of the missiles.

Jask-2 offers Iran a means to launch submarines attacks outside the inner most anti-submarine defenses of naval surface task force, such as an American Carrier Strike Group. Of course, the missile would still have to survive a multi-layered anti-air defensive umbrella to score a hit.

Still, a submarine-launched anti-ship cruise missile capability of any kind would only add to the array of threats Iran can bring to bear in the region, including ship- and shore-launched anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, naval mines, swarms of small boats, including suicide craft, and more. We at The War Zone have explored these very real threats in detail on multiple occasions in the past.

The Fateh-class boats could present an even more significant challenge given their larger size and greater endurance. At present, Iran only has one Fateh, with a second undergoing initial trials. It seems likely that this fleet will expand as time goes on, though.

These submarines can reportedly conduct patrols up to 35 days long and could have a total range of around 4,200 miles. If true, this could give Iran a true domestically-produced regional submarine capability that would allow operations well out into the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea.

The new boats could present an added threat in the equally strategic and narrow Mandeb Strait that links that links the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. At present, only Iran’s three Russian-made Kilo-class submarines have this kind of range.

In addition, the Jask-2, along with the Fatehs, are simply another important demonstration of the capabilities of Iran’s defense industrial base, even under international sanctions and growing pressure from the United States, including reports of a reinvigorated American effort to actively sabotage advanced Iranian weapons programs. Though its purported achievements in the defense sector are often nothing more than propaganda and bluster, the Iranians do continue to field new weapons that do present real threats to their opponents.

Iran’s work on a submarine-launched cruise missile and its growing submarine force are decidedly in the latter category. The two together present a new challenge for foreign naval operations, including the activities of the U.S. Navy, in the Persian Gulf and potentially beyond.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com