Hans Blix, Call Your Office

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Such the deal with Iran, Barry.  Seems there’s an opening for a doddering, pliable, easily-fooled IAEA inspector.

Iran has already stated that no American inspector would be permitted into the country under the deal. The accord also grants Iran a 24-day notice period before inspectors enter any site suspected of being used for nuclear weapons work.

“Any individual, out of IAEA’s Inspection group, who is not approved by the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot enter the country as the agency’s inspector,”

The billions are already pouring into Iran’s economy, where they will be spent as promptly as possible on the latest Russian CDCM and air defense systems.  The diplomatic incompetence, Islamist sympathizing, and anti-Israeli (anti-Semitic) rhetoric of this Administration is profound.  In fact, little more damage could be done if the entire Administration was comprised of Soviet agents.  With Obama’s former Secretary of State (is there really “secret” somewhere in that title?) ensuring our enemies are read into SI and TK, a Soviet agent would be Hero of the Soviet Union for such deeds.   How bad is this deal?

“Administration claims that this was the best possible agreement are pathetic. First Kerry abandoned anytime, anywhere inspections,” Rubin said. “Then Obama claimed this was the most rigorous counter-proliferation regime ever, never mind that it failed to rise to the Libya and South Africa precedents.”

“Then we learned that no Americans are allowed on the inspection teams and that Iran will do its own soil sampling,” Rubin added. “Now the Iranians claim that all IAEA inspectors have to be vetted by Iranian intelligence? It really can’t get any worse than this.”

Current Secretary of State John Kerry, last seen happily roaming around a Communist dictatorship in a Che Guevara t-shirt, could not be reached for comment.   Sokolnikov and Bubov, er, McConnell and Boehner, will ensure that the treaty cannot be overturned by Congressional action, as the Constitution requires.

Enemies, domestic.  All ethnics, no ethics.

The Iran Nuclear Deal

Welp, chalk up another stunning foreign diplomacy victory for the Obama administration. He’s successfully negotiated with a country we’ve been unable to deal with diplomatically since 1979.*

Of course, the problem is, the Obama/Kerry foreign policy brain trust reached this historic agreement with Iran by simply capitulating to virtually every Iranian demand.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBvIg_zRgiY]

Worse still, our own Republican controlled United States Senate has jiggered the rules to make it virtually impossible for the Congress to halt implementation of this agreement.

One of the first effects of the deal will be the lifting of sanctions on Iran, which will result in an immediate cash infusion of about $100 billion dollars into the Iranian economy. You’ll note that the administration claims this money will go solely to improving Iran’s economy. Well, yeah, maybe. Some will undoubtedly go to funding terrorist proxies that are fighting the US and its allies. And of course, the secondary effects of an improvement in the Iranian economy include increased internal stability in Iran (lo for the days when the US might have actually supported the nascent Green Revolution and weakened or overturned the ayatollahs regime) and of course, since money is fungible, the already existing outlays by Iran to support terror will have even less domestic impact on their economy. That is, if they can afford to support terror while under economic sanctions, how will improving their economy make it harder for them to continue to export terror?

Europe, of course, is willing to go along with this, as they suspect that a fair percentage of these billions of dollars will be spent buying from Europe.  And Europe is so desperate to support their own social welfare programs that taking Iranian money makes sense to them, particularly as they labor under the misconception that the United States is and perpetually will continue to be the guarantor of their security.

Iran for its part, once in possession of nuclear weapons, need not actually employ them to achieve their foreign policy goals. Much as Pakistan and North Korea intuited, mere possession of a valid nuclear force renders any possibility of invasion moot.  Far from this agreement steering Iran to enter the fold of the nations of the world, it gives Iran a shield from behind which to further attack its neighbors and adversaries.

Of course, a nuclear armed Iran poses an existential threat to many nations in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia. A nuclear arms race is virtually guaranteed, and we already know that Saudi Arabia is likely to simply purchase weapons off the shelf from Pakistan, whose program they are widely thought to have helped finance in the first place. Other nations in the Gulf might similarly procure weapons.  And as anyone who has studies nuclear proliferation and nuclear war strategy quickly finds, the risk of a nuclear power making a decision to use a nuclear weapon goes up very quickly as the number of possessor nations increases. Sooner or later, instability or poor strategic decision making leads a “player” in the nuclear game to the conclusion that using nuclear weapons is a better option than not using them. When that eventually comes to pass, there will be no telling where it may end.

But hey, Obama and Kerry get to tout a major foreign policy accomplishment, establishing an enduring legacy of accomplishment. And that’s really the important thing here.

Norks

*With the exception of the Iran/Contra deal.

The Falklands, Asymmetric Naval Warfare, and Iran

Yesterday, we read a very interesting piece in CIMSEC about tensions in the South Atlantic between Argentina and Great Britain. While we’ve maintained for some time that Argentine does not currently have a legitimate military capability to seize the Falkland Islands, Alex Calvo proposes some scenarios that would greatly complicate Great Britain’s hold on the territory:

The question is then, could Argentine choose asymmetric non-lethal force over conventional rearmament? A number of scenarios come to mind, from the occupation of a minor island by activists, special forces, or a combination of  both, to the operation of trawlers escorted by non-naval state vessels. Things may get more complex with the involvement of third parties. Could Argentina grant a Chinese company a licence to explore for oil in the Falklands’ EEZ? Or to fish there? Could Buenos Aires then deploy non-naval state vessels (coastguard units or simply law enforcement personnel on board civilian vessels) to protect Chinese trawlers or even a rig?  To make things more complex, Taiwanese trawlers operate in the region, under license by the Falklands Government.

China might be tempted to take up such an offer just to tweak the West’s nose. China, of course, has been using asymmetric non-kinetic naval power in the Western Pacific for some time now, and for arguably good reason.

China has been pretty good about not actively involving itself in its neighbors, actually. And from *China’s* perspective, the establishment of hegemony over the SCS and other first island chains is merely prudent DEFENSIVE planning. Early warning outposts, and establishment of strategic depth. They don’t see what they’ve been doing as offensive. And given the history of China being occupied in whole or part by everybody and their dog, to include even the damn Italians in the last century or so, it makes sense from where they sit.

And then there is Iran. Iran has long wanted to establish itself as a regional hegemon. Iran has, since the 1979 revolution, consistently made themselves a pain concerning shipping the the Arabian Gulf, particularly near the Straits of Hormuz.  The most obvious example of this policy was the 1987-88 Tanker War, but harassment has  continued at lower levels since then. Iran fared badly after Operation Praying Mantis in retaliation for their mining of the waters, and was relatively quiet for some time. Lately, however, they’ve been ratcheting up their mischief.

Today news comes that Iranian forces have seized a Marshall Islands flagged merchant vessel, the M/V Maersk Tigris, firing shots across its bow, and directing it toward Bandar Abbas.

The Marshall Islands are technically an independent and sovereign state. They’re also members of the Compact of Free Association, which is almost a kind of quasi-protectorate status with the United States. That is, they aren’t Americans, but for practical purposes, the US is the guarantor of their security interests.

https://heavyeditorial.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/maersktigris.jpg?quality=65&strip=all&w=780

Of course, the M/V Maersk Tigris isn’t really a Marshallese ship. It is operating under what is known as a flag of convenience. It’s really a Danish ship. But it is cheaper to register the ship with the Marshall Islands (or some other country- Panama and Liberia are popular nations for flags of convenience). Maersk pays less for registration, and the Marshall Islands get a nice little sum of money for not a lot of effort. I would be quite surprised if there were even any Marshallese aboard.  A lot of merchant shipping worldwide is crewed by nationals from places like Indonesia, the Philippines, and other third world nations, where what you and I would consider low wages are quite ruminative to them.

Still, it’s the sovereign flagged vessel of a nation which we, the United States, have agreed to act as shield and sword for. I suppose there might be some valid reason for Iran to seize the vessel, but you and I know that’s highly unlikely. The US has dispatched a warship to “monitor” the situation. Of course, it should take action to re-seize the vessel, but that simply won’t happen with the current administration.

As an acquaintance on Facebook noted, this is more than likely a counter to the recent US intervention to turn back Iranian ships en route to Yemen, not to mention leverage during the talks about just how to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons without appearing to be even more craven. 

Having behaved badly here, with little or no consequence, Iran will almost certainly be emboldened to act ever more brazenly.

The S-300

Recent news that Russian leader Vladimir Putin will deliver S-300 missiles to Iran has raised concerns that the US, Israel or other nations would lose any ability to use military force to delay, degrade or eliminate Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons program. Setting aside the political aspects for a moment, let us take a look at the dreaded S-300 Surface to Air Missile System (SAM).

The Russians have had a robust SAM development program just as long as the United States, and arguably had better results than the US. The Russian S-25 (NATO reporting name SA-1) Berkut and S-75 (SA-2) Dvina SAMs were roughly analogous to the US Nike Ajax, and the S-125 (SA-3) Neva was analogous the US HAWK missile. Similarly, the S-200 (SA-5) Angara fulfilled a role much as the US Nike Hercules.

A historical aside- the Soviet Union had two distinct air defense organizations. The first V-PVO, the Soviet Air Defense Forces, was a separate military service dedicated to the air defense of the Soviet Union, with its own interceptors and surface to air missile systems, and associated warning and control systems. The second was The Air Defense of Ground Troops, which was similar in mission to our own US Army Air Defense Artillery. Obviously the needs of the two forces were quite different, and so each service tended to pursue different missile systems.

That’s important, because when we talk about the S-300 SAM system, it’s important to realize that there are two entirely distinct families of S-300 with vastly different capabilities.  The S-300V family is a national defense asset. The system that Iran has purchased, and which Moscow seems ready to deliver, is the S-300P family, originally designed to protect Soviet forces in the field.

Watching US forces in Vietnam, and Israeli forces in the Yom Kippur war learn to negate the early generation Soviet SAMs through jamming and Wild Weasel tactics, the Soviet Union began development of what would become the S-300 families.  Prime objectives were better mobility for the system, to allow “shoot and scoot” capability, longer missile range, better kinematics (energy and maneuverability) for the missile, greater rate of fire, increased resistance to jamming and other ECM, and reduced vulnerability to anti-radiation missiles that homed in on the SAM battery radar.

When the Soviet Union began developing the next generation of SAMS in the 1970s, several related areas were seeing significant advancements in the state of the art, such as integrated circuits and solid state electronics, reliable digital computers for signal processing and data management, improvements in solid rocket motors, and a shift from mechanically scanned radars to phased arrays.

Let’s talk about the organization of SAM units. The basic unit is the battery, which is a roughly company sized organization, and is the smallest unit capable of independently completing an engagement. That is, it has the resources to acquire, track, identify, and engage a target. This in effect means that each battery has a command post, an acquisition (or search) radar, an engagement radar, and one or more Transporter, Erector, Launch (TEL) vehicles which hold the actual SAMs themselves.  Typically, a battery would have three TELs, each with four launch tubes, for twelve missiles. Usually two missiles are tasked to each target, so a battery can normally engage six targets before it needs to reload. Typically, two to five batteries are integrated into a battalion to cover an even wider area.

The S-300P, manufactured by Almaz, was first fielded in the late 1970s and known in the West as the SA-10 Grumble. As noted, a battery consisted of a command post, an acquisition radar, and engagement radar, and usually three TELs.

Each of the four elements is integrated to the S-300P system, but over time, each of the four elements was also upgraded, or even replaced to enhance the capability of the system. For instance, the original engagement radar, the Flap Lid (5N63), has given way to the Tomb Stone* (30N6) radar. Improvements in one element improve the overall system. And over the course of the life of the S-300P, pretty much every element has been upgraded or replaced by an improved system, to such effect that modern S-300P systems are in effect completely different systems from the original, though care has been taken to ensure backward compatibility.

Iran originally ordered S-300P in for delivery in 2008, but UN imposed sanctions, while not explicitly barring delivery, have to this point led Russia to hold off from closing the deal.  Reportedly, the Iranians will receive the S-300PMU1, also known as the SA-20A Gargoyle A.

Let’s take a look at the elements of the SA-20A.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YGaq8QW0x4]

The command post is the 54K6E.

Note the antenna for data link connection to the radars and TELs of the battery, though it can also be connected via cable.

While the system sold to Iran is reportedly the SA-20A, exactly which radars associated with the sale are included are something of a mystery. And the Russians have a vast array of, well, arrays available to chose from. One high end system is the 64N6E Big Bird.

http://www.ausairpower.net/PVO-S/S-300PMU2-Favorit-64N6E2-Big-Bird-VPVO-Deployed-2S.jpg

The Big Bird is a large passively scanned phased array. In fact, the array is larger than the arrays of an Aegis radar on a US destroyer. Normally the Big Bird scans in azimuth by mechanically rotating the array, and scans in elevation by electronic beam steering. It can stop the rotation, and scan a sector of 60~90 degrees azimuth by electronic beam steering. Detection range against high flying fighter sized targets is credited as being around 150 miles. Of course, due to the earth’s curvature and the resulting radar horizon, detection range versus low altitude targets is much shorter. Consequently, many S-300P systems also use a dedicated radar for low altitude search. The radar horizon issue persists, but the radar is optimized for operating in the ground clutter environment. One such radar is the 76N6E Clam Shell.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/76N6_Clam_Shell_FMCW_acquisition_radar.jpg

The engagement radar is likely the 30N6E Tomb Stone phased array radar.

http://www.ausairpower.net/PVO-S/S-300PMU2-Favorit-30N6E2-Tomb-Stone-VPVO-Deployed-1S.jpg

Rather than emitting one beam and rotating to move the beam, a phased array uses thousands of phase shifters mounted in an array (hence the name) to electronically steer the main search beam, and can also simultaneously transmit and receive secondary beams. For instance, it might be searching its engagement sector, while simultaneously also tracking half a dozen targets for engagement. It is also frequency agile, so the targets being tracked don’t receive a continuous stream of energy at the same frequency, making it harder for the target to realize it is under attack, and further, making it much more difficult to jam.

The SA-20A missile itself is the 48N6, a large, single stage missile quite similar to our own early Patriot missile. The SA-20A is cold launched vertically from a four tube launcher mounted either on a truck or semi trailer.

http://www.oocities.org
/fishbed00.geo/russia/sa10.gif

It is generally credited with an effective range of anywhere from 40 to 80 miles versus an aerial target. It has a maximum speed of about Mach 6, though the average speed, particularly for longer range engagements, is more typically around Mach 2 or Mach 2.5. In addition to engaging aircraft and cruise missiles, it has a limited capability against short ranged ballistic missile type targets.

The SA-20A uses a guidance technique known as Track Via Missile, or TVM. There are a couple different variations on TVM, but most work generally the same. Let’s walk through a hypothetical engagement to show how TVM works.

  1. The Big Ben acquisition radar detects a target in the battery’s sector.
  2. The target is displayed on the command posts scopes.
  3. The command post initiates the engagement by queuing the Tomb Stone engagement radar to lock onto the target.
  4. The Command post tasks a TEL to engage, and gives the 48N6 missile’s autopilot initial steering commands to follow.
  5. The missile launches vertically, then tips over to the direction of the estimated intercept point.
  6. As the missile flies toward the target, the Tomb Stone uses a radar beam to illuminate the target.
  7. A passive radar receiver in the missile receives the reflected radar energy from the target, and transmits that information in a coded stream back to the Tomb Stone radar.
  8. The Tomb Stone radar sends that message to the command post.
  9. Fire direction computers in the command post generate steering commands for the missile, and transmit them to the Tomb Stone radar.
  10. While still illuminating the target, the Tomb Stone radar also sends the coded steering commands to the missile, which generally has a receiver antenna in the back of the missile’s fins.
  11. The missile corrects its flight path.

Note that as the missile gets closer to the target, it is receiving ever more of the reflected radar energy from the target. In essence, it gets more accurate as it gets closer. TVM means that the illumination beam doesn’t need to be as powerful as a conventional semi-active homing system. Further, the missile can be somewhat cheaper, as the computing power is not on board the missile, but in the command post.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hl8btwQ-X2k]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtuN8UuAWTg]

Cold Launch doesn’t always work as planned.

 

While the SA-20A has a formidable low altitude capability, it is optimized for the mid to high altitude counter-air role.** Since the US has, since the end of the Vietnam War, tended to operate at those altitudes to avoid low technology defenses such as gunfire and short range IR guided missiles, that poses a challenge for the US and other nations with a similar operational philosophy.

That the S-300P is a formidable air defense system is without question. But can we (or more likely, the Israelis, or less likely, the Saudis) penetrate to a target defended by it.

Well, yes, but…

As we’ve seen in air campaigns from the 1982 Israeli-Syria Bekka Valley war through Desert Storm, and Allied Force in Kosovo, the first phase of a campaign is to disintegrate the enemy Integrated Air Defense System. Some of that can be as simple as putting a Tomahawk cruise missile in the headquarter of the enemy’s air defense organization. Other weapons used to suppress or destroy air defense assets can include the Army’s ATACMs short range ballistic guided missile system. The problem is that precise targeting is needed to attack a system such as the S-300P. The S-300P can be moved in as little as five minutes. So the targeting has to be in virtually real time. To do that requires an investment in quite a few electronic warfare aircraft or other system. Once found, simply attacking it is a challenge. The maximum range of the SA-20A is nominally greater than the range of the HARM anti-radar missile normally used to attack SAM systems.

But the US, and its allies, tend to eschew taking a system versus system approach, and instead use multiple avenues to address any single platform. For instance, attacking any target protected by an S-300P would almost certainly involve significant numbers of electronic warfare aircraft, such as the EA-18G Growler, both for locating the SAM site, and for jamming the associated radars, as well as launching HARMs at them. Other supporting HARM shooters would also be used.

Other stand-off weapons targeted in real time would include the Joint Stand-Off Weapon and likely the Small Diameter Bomb, both conceived of in part to defeat long range SAM systems. All these weapons would be used on coordination with a swarm of Miniature Air Launched Decoys.

A promotional video explaining how multiple weapons can be used to overwhelm advanced SAM defenses:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Pu_PKpEhqU]

Bottom line, while the S-300P system in Iran would not preclude the US or its allies penetrating defended airspace, it would make such a task much more difficult, and likely time consuming. It would also greatly increase the risk of crew losses or captured airmen.

Having said that, if the alternative is a nuclear armed Iran, it seems that risking treasure and lives is worth it.

 

 

* Current Russian designation systems are somewhat impenetrable to my mind, so I’ve tended to mostly use the NATO Reporting Name for a given system.

**It is also quite typical for an SA-20A battery to have a modern short range air defense system such as the Tor-M1 (SA-15 Gauntlet)  co-located for terminal defense of the battery itself.

This Iranian nuke deal keeps getting better and better!

Via Politico.

 

No specifics, nothing written, perhaps not even anything that Iran and the international negotiating partners say as one—that’s the most to expect out of the nuclear talks now running up against the deadline in Switzerland, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Friday.

But even concluding this round of talks with that level of ambiguity, Hammond said, would count as a significant success. And he thinks they’ll get it.

H/T to Ace, who also has this terrific post about France even recognizing what a shit sandwich Obama is telling them to take a bite of.

In the comments yesterday, Bill asked a question:

I’m curious to hear XBRADTC, your reason for seeing Iran as any real threat to us.

Reasons for Iran BEING a regional power:
1. More people
2. More industrial capacity
3. A culture that goes MUCH further than “a bunch of nomadic shepherds in the Desert”
4. a Solid national Identity which WASN’T carved out of the carcass of the Ottoman Empire.

Reasons Against:
1. They say ugly things all the time to gin up domestic and regional support.
2. They are actively engaged in supplanting Shia’a Islam as the dominant creed in the region over Sunni Islam. (The Islam that DAESH and Al Quaeda support).
3. They REALLY don’t like the USA. (Big surprise, we REALLY don’t like them either).
4: They ACT like a regional power. (Kinda like the US did with Mexico).
5. (the big one) They have the capacity to build a nuclear weapon and there is not a damn thing we can do to stop that short of nuclear genocide or an invasion and occupation of a fiercely nationalist country with 77 million people who will ALL hate us.

If I were in charge of Iran, I WOULD WANT A NUKE TOO. Because it’s the ONE guarantor of territorial and national sovereignty that even the USA cannot afford to ignore. Saddam didn’t have one. And if he HAD, and had the means to deliver it to NYC, I doubt Operation Iraqi Freedom would have happened.

So what are your alternatives? Short of an invasion that would take every asset in our inventory to deal with and probably require a draft for manpower to deal with the rest of our obligations? I’m open to suggestions. I have no more love of the Mullahs than you do. But I’d like to hear a clear, specific and detailed counter-strategy to limited containment.

I think Iran should be a regional power, for the very reasons Bill listed. I would love to see a stable, productive Iran as a positive influence on stability in the region.  I’m not even terribly concerned with their status as a theocracy. We’ve managed to get along reasonably well with other theocratic states. Indeed, if the 1979 capture of our embassy and the hostage taking of our personnel were a one time incident, I’d be prepared to forgive, if not forget.

But Iran has a thirty plus year record of using terror against any and all who are not its vassals. They blew up a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Ares! They are also, of course, the force behind Hezbollah, which itself has a long history of violence against Americans and our interests.  And as Esli noted in his response to Bill’s question, there’s an awful lot of American blood on Iranian hands. For instance, as up-armored Humvees in Iraq were able to defeat simple IEDs, Iranian supplied Explosively Formed Penetrators were used to kill our troops.

As to Iranian desire to have nuclear weapons, I’m against proliferation just on general grounds. Regarding Iran specifically, the deterrent effect of an Iranian weapon would certainly allow them to be far more obnoxious on the international stage than they already  are. Worse still, it will lead to further proliferation. The only question becomes, who would be the next country to have nuclear arms, with Saudi Arabia the likely winner of that race. They would probably simply purchase them from Pakistan. If you proliferate enough, the probability of someone actually using nuclear weapons begins to approach 1. That is not to say that New York or Los Angeles would be the target, but one problem with nuclear wargaming has always been shown to be entanglement and escalation. Once one weapon has been used, it is a virtual certainty others will be, and who knows where that will end? While my first concern is always for the safety and well being of the United States and her people, I also would generally like to not see any major metropolitan area vanish in a brilliant flash of light. Not even our enemy’s.

As to what we can do, let’s start with what we shouldn’t have done. We shouldn’t have legitimized Iran’s nuclear program by negotiating with them, particularly since the “goals” of this program are farcical.

Aside from that, there is a wide array of options we could have, and can still undertake. First, we should have provided at least moral support during the Green Revolution of 2009. It would have been nice if the average Iranian could have heard (via VOA or other information sources) that the United States supported them and was not their enemy.

Other non-kinetic options include an array of economic sanctions. The sanction regime until recently in place was surprisingly effective.  Competent diplomacy could have made them even more effective, even to the point of being draconian.

Were we really interested in turning up the heat, we would have vastly increased our domestic oil production, enacted legislation allowing the export of oil, and then imposed an embargo, or even blockade, on Iranian oil exports.

We could also have undertaken covert actions to undermine the ayatollah’s regime through funding of internal dissidents.

Finally, we could undertake military action to deny Iran its nuclear program. Even short of an invasion and occupation, quite a bit could be done to thwart the Iranian’s progress. There is quite a bit of infrastructure that is quite vulnerable, even if major portions of their program is at hardened sites. Electrical generation and transmission, critical to centrifuge operation, is difficult to harden.  Targeting key personnel in the program is another option.

While I’ve listed options as a spectrum, a truly effective effort to deny Iran would fuse these elements together.

Instead, we’re bullying our allies into joining an agreement that isn’t even worth the paper it won’t be written down on!

The Iranian Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile

There have been a lot of pixels spilled worrying about the Chinese DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (AShBM). Now comes news that the Iranians have developed and fielded their own AShBM. Hit the panic button!

Or not.

Iran’s Khalij Fars anti-ship ballistic missile (AShBM) – a weapon that could shift the military balance in the Gulf region – is being delivered to operational units, according to the US Department of Defense’s annual report to Congress on the Islamic Republic’s military capabilities.

“Tehran is quietly fielding increasingly lethal symmetric and asymmetric weapon systems, including more advanced naval mines, small but capable submarines, coastal defence cruise missile batteries, attack craft, and anti-ship ballistic missiles,” the report’s declassified executive summary said.

This is the first corroboration of Iranian claims that the AShBM is in service. US officials declined to comment further on the report, which was submitted to Congress in January.

The Khalij Fars is a version of the Fateh-110 tactical ballistic missile with an electro-optical (EO) seeker that enables it to home in on a ship’s infrared signature in its terminal phase. The Iranian media has reported that the missile has the same 300 km range and 650 kg warhead as the more recent versions of the Fateh-110.

Vice Admiral James Syring, the director of the US Missile Defense Agency, submitted a statement to a Congressional subcommittee in June saying: “This ballistic missile has a range of 300 km, which means it is capable of threatening maritime activity throughout the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz.” Vice Adm Syring confirmed the AShBM had been flight tested, but did not comment on whether it was operational.

Let us assume for the moment that the Khalij Fars (KF)  is indeed operational with the Iranian Forces. 

The biggest challenge with any long range anti-ship missile system isn’t building the missile, nor yet even the seeker. It’s building the targeting. Detection, localization, classification and identification at long ranges is a difficult task. Most generally, you have to have some sensor platform relatively close to the intended target. Most nations use helicopters and aircraft for this role.  If you can get a helicopter or aircraft in close enough to perform the targeting function, why not make them the shooter as well? That’s one reason the US withdrew the Tomahawk anti-ship missile variant and relied instead on the Harpoon missile with its somewhat shorter range.

But let us again assume for the moment that the Iranians have addressed the long range targeting issue to their satisfaction.  How dangerous is this Khalij Fars missile?

Well, it’s not to be ignored. With a reported range of 300km, it’s got more than enough range to hold all of the Strait of Hormuz at risk, as well as significant portions of the rest of the Arabian Gulf.  And a 650kg warhead is fairly powerful. Further, the angle of impact of a ballistic warhead would tend to mean the blast will more likely do greater damage below the waterline than a conventional anti-ship missile that impacts above the waterline. And the passive Electro/Optical guidance system means that ships won’t be able to use their electronic support measures for warning of incoming missiles, nor able to jam their radars or use chaff to decoy them.

As the article notes, the Iranians are working with a spectrum of systems to hold at risk shipping, both merchant and naval, in the Gulf, and this is one more arrow in the quiver.

But all is not lost.

First, the range of a ballistic missile is a function of its speed. The shorter the range, the lower the speed of the missile. The KF has a speed of about Mach 3.5. That’s far, far less than the speed of the much longer range Chinese DF-21D missile. 

The primary difficulty in intercepting a ballistic target is the speed of an engagement. There’s nothing magical about a parabolic trajectory that creates difficulty in interception. Indeed, the parabolic trajectory makes for simpler tracking. Today’s SPY-1D radar and Aegis computer system have no difficulty tracking such a target from launch to impact. Sea skimming supersonic cruise missiles keep surface warriors up at night because their speed, coupled with the short distance to the radar horizon for surface mounted radars, means that a target has very, very little reaction time. A ballistic missile, however, actually becomes somewhat easier to see on radar as it rises along its trajectory, away from the clutter of the sea surface, or the shore its fired from.

And the Mach 3.5 isn’t terribly excessive for the Standard Missile family to engage. Any Aegis equipped ship should have multiple opportunities to engage any KF missile, from mid-course through the terminal phase, with an excellent chance of defeating it.

And while the KF’s E/O sensor is invulnerable to jamming, it’s not invulnerable to decoying via flares and other infrared techniques.

So while the KF missile might add a new capability to the Iranian forces, it alone certainly won’t fundamentally change the ability of the US Navy to transit and operate in the Arabian Gulf.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nc7eUO1aw9M]

In Case You Missed It…

While President Obama is busy pissing off long time allies like the French and Germans* both through policies that offend them, attempting to align more closely with autocratic Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, and spying on just about everybody, you might have missed another Obama “success” story.

Since World War II the US and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia have had a steady, if not always strong, alignment. And that alignment is in danger of rupture.

Saudi Arabia often strikes us more as  a “frenemy” than an ally. We all know that 15 of 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi nationals, as was, of course, Osama bin Laden. And Saudi subjects finance radical madrasses worldwide, preaching a vision of Islam that sneers at the mores and values of our Western culture and heritage.

But the Saudi royal family, despite appearing to be an absolute monarchy, is in a difficult position. As much as they try to moderate and modernize their culture, any shift to a more liberal** stance risks seeing them overthrown by their own radical elements. The family has to walk a tightrope between maintaining relations with the West, and not inviting internal revolt.

Saudi Arabia’s single biggest external security issue is Iran. The incredibly deep schism between Sunni and Shia means Iran is an even greater threat to the kingdom than any possible internal unrest. And the specter of a nuclear armed Iran is the nightmare fuel for Saudi foreign ministry types.

Sadly, Obama seems to take at face value the extraordinarily meager crumbs of reconciliation the new Iranian president Rouhani.  This is incredibly naive, even for this feckless administration. The Iranians are clearly trying to buy time to further their nuclear weapons program. Toning down the rhetoric is an easy way to do it. That our own government can’t see that is astonishing.  Further, even in the incredible case that President Rouhani actually did wish to change the relationship between the US and Iran, such a policy decision is out of his hands. The president of Iran can do pretty much anything he wants, policy-wise, so long as it is exactly what the Supreme Ruling Council wants.

Michael Totten has a terrific post that showcases the fruits of our amatuer foreign policy, a policy so bad that it is driving Saudi Arabia away from the US, and into the arms of… who knows? He goes off the rails a bit there, but the diagnosis is spot on.

Personally, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if China was quick to make friends.

*To be honest, I’m not a bit dismayed to hear we’re spying on them. We’re supposed to spy on everybody but our own citizens.

**Not in the American political sense