I recently had the pleasure of talking to a Financial Times reporter about Iran’s appetite for small boats. The story, dealing with the saga of the “Bradstone Challenger“, a Bladerunner 51 speedboat, just hit the press today (and it got some love from Drudge (bottom middle column), so…good times). (.pdf here)
I noted Iran’s interest in the Ice Marine’s Bladerunner back in early 2009–in fact, I reported that the Commerce Department’s “stop order”, coming on January 22, was one of the Obama Administration’s first actions taken after the inauguration. But, sadly, bureaucracy intervened–South Africa mislaid the order, sending the boat off in the “Iranian Diplomat.”
“The loading went ahead because, said one source, no one saw the US notice sent by fax over a weekend. US special forces were ready to intercept the Iranian merchant vessel but the operation was called off, the source said”
So now the vessel has, reportedly, been militarized (or, more likely, is being reverse-engineered).
(I won’t bore you with this story’s nitty-gritty details–as fascinating as they are.¬† If you are interested, go read the full post at NEXTNAVY.COM–it’s a rollicking story of international intrigue, politics and…Italian speedboats!)
But for now, let’s focus on the strategic question…Iran’s apatite for small boats aside, just how big a danger are Iran’s little boats? Should the U.S. worry?
Outside of surprise (a la the USS Cole), the small boat “record” since World War II fails to live up to the modern-day hype. Certainly, small boats are not things to completely disregard, but I do have serious doubts about the danger a swarm poses to a prepared US vessel. And, in the article, I said so:
‚ÄúThough the US Navy is very concerned a swarm of small boats can overwhelm and sink a large warship, the hypothesis is untested. It has never been done,‚ÄĚ Mr Hooper told the FT. ‚ÄúA small, fast boat navy is nothing more than a surprise strike and harassment force. Every time small, fast boats run into helicopters, the helicopters win.‚ÄĚ
The proof just ain’t there. Once a fast boat swarm is identified as “hostile,” those small boats tend to lead relatively short, exciting lives.
In 1987, U.S. helicopters made quick work of Boghammar speedboats, and during the 1991 Bubiyan Turkey Shoot, helicopters helped sink or damage 143 small Iraqi naval vessels.
The trick, of course, is avoiding any losses as a “swarm” transforms from “traffic” to a swarming “attacker”…
And that might be a tad difficult.
Or…maybe not.¬† Discuss!
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