Iran’s paramilitary navy is constructing the first of what will likely be a whole new fleet of fast-attack craft—a type of small, nimble warship that operates on the offensive in close proximity to the coast. The boat is a twin-hulled catamaran that will one day carry both anti-ship and anti-air missiles.

The new vessel is currently under construction at the Shahid Mahallati Shipyard in Bushehr, Iran. Naval News first spotted it last week in commercial satellites images. From above, you can see the boat’s two narrow hulls are placed side by side, supporting a wide bridge deck.

The bridge deck itself is angled and appears to be built for speed. Catamarans are typically faster than average vessels owing to their use of two small hulls instead of one large one, lessening hydrodynamic resistance and increasing speed.

The Shahid Mahallati Shipyard has built warships for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the past. IRGC is Iran’s second armed force—a land, air, and sea paramilitary force that serves the country’s theocratic government. At sea, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGC-N) is responsible for protecting and advancing the regime’s interests in the Persian Gulf.
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The IRGC-N has relied on a ragtag assemblage of armed speedboats for decades. Typically, these are cigarette boat crafts armed with heavy machine guns, 107-millimeter rocket launchers, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and sometimes anti-tank missiles. The IRGC, as naval analyst H.I. Sutton points out in U.S. Naval Institute (USNI) News, seems to be shifting toward the construction of larger, more conventionally oriented ships.

The new warship, according to an IRGC general speaking in May 2020, would be 213 feet long, equipped with a helipad, and armed with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles. The incorporation of a helipad on such a small ship suggests that engineers might be burying the missile launchers inside the hull, pointing upward.

While USNI News doesn’t speculate on the exact types of armament that IRGC-N will carry on the new vessel, we can make some informed guesses. The warship—tentatively named the Soleimani class after the IRGC general that U.S. forces killed in a 2020 drone strike—could carry the Qader, Iran’s updated copy of the Chinese C-802 anti-ship missile. Qader is a 20.9-foot-long sea-skimming missile with a 341-pound high explosive warhead and a range of 74 miles.

How many Qaders does the Soleimani class carry? Iranian-backed Houthi guerrillas have used Iranian missiles in at least two attacks, including the 2016 skirmish on the destroyer USS Mason in 2016, and a strike on the commercial catamaran HSV Swift.

Iran has likely analyzed the attack on the Mason, in which the American guided-missile destroyer swatted down both incoming missiles. The result of that attack suggests Iranian warships should carry a minimum of three missiles (or more) if possible.

The Soleimani class will reportedly carry anti-aircraft missiles, too. However, the limited internal volume of a catamaran hull—coupled with the need to optimize it for anti-ship missiles and a helicopter landing pad—reduces its ability to carry anything other than short-range, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.

Western helicopters carry missiles like the American Hellfire and the new Anglo-French Sea Venom. They can easily outrange shoulder-fired missiles; the Soleimani class will be particularly vulnerable.

The Soleimani class may have been inspired by China’s Type 022 Houbei-class fast-attack craft. The Houbei class is a high-speed catamaran that, although 50 percent smaller than the Soleimani craft, carries eight C-802-type anti-ship missiles. This suggests the Iranian boat could carry eight or more similarly sized Qader missiles. China built at least 83 of the Type 022 boats for coastal defense in the 2000s before graduating to larger, more capable ships.

According to USNI News, at least three hulls are under construction simultaneously. Iran could build more than a dozen of the ships, though, giving the IRGC the ability to swarm larger vessels with missiles. That is, if they’re not sunk first.

Source » popularmechanics