Iranian Navy ships enter the English Channel

In a surprising turn of events, two Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, or IRIN, warships left the Atlantic and headed for the English Channel, where they were spotted today. The final destination of the two ships, the “sea base ship” Makran and the frigate sahandIran’s most modern warship, is unclear, but their passage would be in line with previous reports that they are heading to the Russian port of St. Petersburg for the naval parade taking place there later this this month.

Satellite photographs first indicated that Iranian warships were heading towards the English Channel before their presence in these waters was confirmed by data on Marine traffican aggregator that provides real-time transponder information on vessel movements.

The former IRINS tanker Makran., IRANIAN STATE MEDIA

Although Britain’s Royal Navy is expected to keep a close eye on the Iranian ships, earlier today they appeared to be being tracked by RRS Mr David Attenborougha specialist research vessel owned by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council and is due to make its first research trip to Antarctica later this year.

The passage of the IRINS Makranbased on publicly available Automated Identification System (AIS) transmissions., marinetraffic.com

After leaving Iran last April, Makran and sahand had rounded the Cape of Good Hope, in what the first time that Iranian navy ships had operated in the Atlantic Ocean. For a while they were expected to cross the ocean heading to Venezuela, to deliver weapons and/or oil. In particular, the appearance of seven missile boats on the bridge of Makranas well as what appeared to be a full load of oil or fuel, suggested that he could deliver these cargoes to his ally in South America, as part of the expansion of military and non-military cooperation between the two countries .

Suspicion then turned to a possible transport to Syria, where the Assad regime has long been the subject of Iranian support, however, after spending about a week off Dakar, Senegal, Iranian warships continued along the coast of West Africa, then bypassed the Iberian Peninsula and France.

Commissioned earlier this year, the Makran is a former tanker and, at 755 feet in length, is the largest ship in the IRIN fleet, drawing comparisons to US Navy Expeditionary Sea Bases (ESBs), which are 764 feet long.

The Makran is capable of accommodating helicopters, but lacks hangars, and has also been used for maneuvers with drones, fast attack craft and mini submarines. However, there are also fears that Iran is exploiting a legal gray area offered by the ship’s military status and using it to ferry cargo to countries under international sanctions, such as Syria and Venezuela. Previous Iranian efforts to deliver fuel to Venezuela and Syria using merchant tankers led to the seizure of those vessels, while Makran enjoys additional protections under international law.

Iranian media also claimed that the Makran may also undertake other missions, including electronic warfare and special operations. In the past, Rear Admiral Khanzadi has also spoken of the ship’s “missile and weapons capabilities”, although it is not clear what these might consist of. As a naval auxiliary, however, Makran would be prohibited to launch attacks during a conflict, at least in the legal sense, although it is debatable whether the regime in Tehran would necessarily take this into account, especially in times of heightened tensions.

On the contrary, the prestige and importance of the Makran only increased in the months following its commissioning, following the loss of the tanker Kharg, which caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Oman last month. The Kharg had been one of Iran’s most important warships and was once the largest in its fleet. This vessel had been used to support operations farther from Iranian shores, including a high-profile visit to China in 2013.

The sinking of Khargafter a fire in the Gulf of Oman on June 2., FARS/IRAN STATE MEDIA

Accompanying the Makranthe sahand was once described by Iran as a destroyer, with a displacement of 2,000 tons, it is more accurately categorized as a frigate or even a corvette. The design is a derivative of British-made warships which were supplied to the country in the 1970s, before the Iranian revolution.

The sahand is equipped with launchers for Qader subsonic anti-ship cruise missiles, as well as Sayyad-2 surface-to-air missiles, an Iranian adaptation of the American RIM-66 Standard Missile-1 (SM-1). The warship also includes a 76mm main gun and torpedo tubes, as well as various autocannons and machine guns for close defense.

The St. Petersburg Naval Parade, scheduled for July 25, will mark the 325th anniversary of the Russian Navy. Besides the likely appearance of the two Iranian warships, the event is also expected to feature three nuclear-powered submarines from the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet. here are the Borei-A class ballistic missile submarine Knyaz Vladimirthe Oscar II class missile submarine oreland the Akula II class attack nuclear submarine Vepr.

Earlier this month, a writer for Iran’s Tasnim news agency tweeted that Iranian warships were to join the naval parade in St Petersburg, along with IRIN Commander Hossein Khanzadi.

While the Atlantic deployment is a first for IRIN, sending just two ships is little more than a token force, but the significance lies not so much in the overall capabilities deployed, but in the demonstration of a new area of ​​operations for the service, beyond the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

In the past, IRIN has also operated further afield, but mainly in the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean. The ability to conduct long-duration, long-endurance missions in the Atlantic confirms that the service is at least beginning to fulfill its ambitions of becoming a deep-sea navy.

IRINS Makranphotographed earlier this year., Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/Wikimedia Commons

Besides a rare appearance in northern European waters for the Makran and sahand – and for IRIN in general – the apparent forthcoming visit to the Baltic Sea is a mark of the deepening of military relations between Moscow and Tehran.

Over the past few months, IRIN and the Russian Navy have participated in joint maneuvers in the Caspian Sea, while there have been repeated reports that Iran has offered Russia the use of its own naval bases on its Gulf Coast, which would expand the geographic area available for combined operations beyond the landlocked Caspian and into the wider Persian Gulf, and via the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman.

To be sure, Iran and Russia share interests not only in supporting the Assad regime in the ongoing civil war in Syria, but they would also both benefit from efforts to thwart the continued US presence in the country. Gulf and Mediterranean. At the same time, the lifting of UN restrictions on Iranian arms imports again provides Russia, in particular, with a potential customer for its advanced weapons systems.

With this in mind, while the impending presence of two Iranian warships at the Russian Navy celebrations in St. Petersburg is primarily ceremonial, it could also be a sign of growing naval cooperation between the two countries in the years to come. .

Contact the author: [email protected]