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Alvand Class

The Alvand Class (also referred to as the Sa'am Class) is the official name of the Vosper Thornycroft Mk 5 1,100 ton displacement frigate in Iranian service. Each has a crew of between 125 and 146. These boats were refitted in Britain just before the 1979 revolution. There were four ships of this class in operation with the Iranian navy originally. Sahand was sunk by US Navy aircraft in April 1988, and Sabalan was crippled by a laser-guided bomb in the same action and spent two years in dock. Sabalan returned to service, but reportedly operated under some speed restrictions

The largest operational surface combatants remaining by the 1990s were these three British built frigates, commissioned in 1971-72 and refitted just before the Shah was overthrown. The Vosper Thornycroft Mk 5 is a mid-1960s design equipped with weapons of that period: Sea Killer (an early surface-to-surface missile), 4.5" and 20mm guns, and a Limbo ASW mortar. Sea Killer was an obsolete system in the 1990s. In addition the Iranian navy appeared to have run out of missiles during that period as well, fitting 122mm rockets instead.

The Alvand Class boats have since been rearmed, as part of a larger push in the Iranian navy. These upgrades most notably included the replacement of the Sea Killer missile system with the more capable C-802 cruise missile system found on a variety of Iranian vessels. Other improvements included the addition of torpedo tubes and a manned 35mm cannon turret in addition to the existing 20mm cannons.

On 14 April 1988, watchstanders aboard USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) sighted three mines floating approximately half of a mile from the ship. Twenty minutes after the first sighting, as Samuel B. Roberts was backing clear of the minefield, she struck a submerged mine. The explosive device tore a 21-foot hole in the hull, causing extensive fires and flooding. Ten Sailors were injured in the attack. Only the heroic efforts of the ships crew, working feverishly for seven straight hours, saved the vessel from sinking. Four days later, forces of the Joint Task Force Middle East (JTFME) executed the American response to the attack: Operation Praying Mantis. The operation called for the destruction of two oil platforms being used by Iran to coordinate attacks on merchant shipping. On 18 April, the coalition air and surface units not only destroyed the oil rigs but also various Iranian units attempting to counter-attack U.S. forces. By the end of the battle, U.S. air and surface units had sunk or severely damaged half of Irans operational fleet.

A laser-guided bomb dropped from a Navy A-6 Intruder disabled frigate Sabalan (F 73), and Standard missiles launched from the cruiser Wainwright (CG 28) and frigates Bagley (FF 1069) and Simpson (FFG 56) destroyed the 147-foot missile patrol boat Joshan (P 225).

Fighting continued when the Iranian frigate Sahand departed Bandar Abbas and challenged elements of an American surface group. She was observed by two VA-95 A-6Es while they were flying surface combat air patrol for USS Joseph Strauss (DDG 16). Sahand launched missiles at the A-6Es, and the Intruders replied with launches of two Harpoons and four laser-guided Skipper bombs. This was followed by a Harpoon firing from Joseph Strauss. The weapons delivered against Sahand were successful. Fires blazing on her decks eventually reached her magazines resulting in the final explosions that led to her sinking.

The loss of Sahand, one of Iran's most modern ships. was not enough to stop the suicidal sorties of the Iranian navy. A sister ship, Sabalan, departed her port for operations in the Gulf. She fired on several A-6Es from VA-95 with a surface-to-air missile. One of the Intruders responded with a laser-guided bomb that hit Sabalan and stopped her dead in the water. The Iranian frigate was taken in tow by an Iranian tug with the stern partially submerged [though later repaired. And returned to military service]. VA-95's aircraft, as ordered, did not continue the attack. This action ended the retaliatory strikes against Iran that began as a result of Iranian mining in international waters.

In further combat A-6s sank one Boghammer high-speed patrol boat and neutralized four more of these Swedish-made speedboats. One Marine AH-1T Sea Cobra crashed from undetermined causes, resulting in the loss of two air crew. Operation Praying Mantis proved a milestone in naval history. For the first time since World War II, U.S. naval forces and supporting aircraft fought a major surface action against a determined enemy.

It was a devastating loss for the IRIN and Iran as a whole. The battle clearly illuminated the IRINs deficiencies in conducting conventional warfare at sea against a capable opponent. The IranIraq War, including the Tanker War, would end only a few months following Operation Praying Mantis, but the engagement would leave an impression on Irans military leaders and shaped Irans naval forces in the decades that followed.

Combat Fleets 16th Edition noted that "Vickers Mk 8 automatic guns replaced the originally fitted semi- automatic Mk 6 during refits in the 1970s. Twin 23-mm 87-cal. ZU-23-2 Soviet AA mounts replaced the original Sea Cat SAM launcher and were in turn later replaced by single 20-mm mounts. The original quintuple-mount, trainable Sea Killer antiship missile system aft was replaced by fixed racks for Chinese-supplied C-802 missiles during 199698, and the associated target detection and tracking radar (which can also operate in the passive mode) has been stepped on a new lattice mast integrated into the forward edge of the original pylon mainmast. Around 2001 two sets of triple ASW torpedo tubes were added aft aboard Alvand, in place of the Limbo ASW mortar; the origin of the tubes and the type of torpedoes they may carry are unknown."

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