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U.S. aircraft carrier and 15 other Navy ships sunk in the Strait of Hormuz in 5-10 minutes

That was the result of a war game conducted by our Defense Department in 2002 and reassessed in 2008, according to this NYT article. The key advantage of the unnamed attack force was asymmetric warfare using large numbers of cheap speedboats (like Iran's) and cruise missiles overwhelmed the Navy's ability to deal with all of them fast enough. From the article:

The United States and Iran have a history of conflicts in the strait — most recently in January 2008, when the Bush administration chastised Iran for a "provocative act" after five armed Iranian speedboats approached three American warships in international waters, then maneuvered aggressively as radio threats were issued that the American ships would be blown up. The confrontation ended without shots fired or injuries.

In 2002, a classified, $250 million Defense Department war game concluded that small, agile speedboats swarming a naval convoy could inflict devastating damage on more powerful warships. In that game, the Blue Team navy, representing the United States, lost 16 major warships — an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious vessels — when they were sunk to the bottom of the Persian Gulf in an attack that included swarming tactics by enemy speedboats.

"The sheer numbers involved overloaded their ability, both mentally and electronically, to handle the attack," Lt. Gen. Paul K. Van Riper, a retired Marine Corps officer who served in the war game as commander of a Red Team force representing an unnamed Persian Gulf military, said in 2008, when the results of the war game were assessed again in light of Iranian naval actions at the time. "The whole thing was over in 5, maybe 10 minutes."

There seems to be a consensus that the US military could reopen the Straits of Hormuz to oil tankers, although it might take months to do so, but we would be at war with Iran with all that implies: Eliminating Iran's navy, air defenses, aircraft, and missiles; deciding whether to blockade Iranian oil exports and refined product imports and whether to interdict the shipping of neutral nations to/from Iran; how to deal with Iran's plentiful ground forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; how to deal with assassinations and increased terrorism around the world; controlling Iran from the air for decades as we did the vastly smaller Iraq; deciding what degree of revenge is required by US domestic politics for the embarrassment of an initial naval defeat; etc. The US might be able in some sense to "win" such a war, but we could not control it.

Many say, and I agree with them, that the Iranians must surely understand that it would be a disaster for them. However, it is not rare for isolated dictators to miscalculate and/or do irrational things. Recall Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor and Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, for examples. The NYT article also highlights the risk that the Revolutionary Guards navy, which operates the speed boats and other forces, are "cowboys" and capable of "buffoonery." We could get into a war with Iran that its top leadership did not intend.

In any confrontation or negotiation, it is useful to make your adversary think you are crazy and therefore capable of grossly irrational and self-destructive acts. So for Iran to be engaging in brinksmanship and acting crazy is not a surprise, but I fear they may actually be crazy. And if they aren't yet, continued assassinations of Iran's political, military, and technological figures by Israel's Mossad may push them over the edge into popular or leadership irrationality and martyrdom.

I believe the US is better able to tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran than another war in the Middle East tinder box. We should be taking these risks of unintended war more seriously than I think we are, and not get too close to the edge. Iran is not China or Russia, but it's a much bigger adversary than Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam, and we should not want to find out if we can handle Iran or at what cost.

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Reader Comments (2)

The countdown begins Monday when the Iranian army and Revolutionary Guards start a large-scale five-day military exercise called 'Wadat', or 'Unity', in the Persian Gulf. Iranian naval and air units will rehearse the seizure of the strategic Straits of Hormuz and impose a mock blockade on Gulf for oil shipping and bound for yacht jobs for Western and Japanese ports through the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. They also will practice amphibious landings on the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb in the mouth of Straits of Hormuz.

March 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessie Mendonca

The Revolutionary Guards navy has been steadily building and buying faster missile boats and stockpiling what American experts say are at least 2,000 naval mines. Many are relatively primitive, about the size of an American garbage can, and easy to slip into the water. “Iran’s credible mining threat can be an effective deterrent to potential enemy forces,” an unclassified report by the Office of Naval Intelligence, the American Navy’s intelligence arm, concluded in 2009. “The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow chokepoint that could be mined effectively in a relatively short amount of time” with disruptions within hours and more serious blockage in place over days.

Barbara Cote
Cell Phone Inn

April 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

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