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Thondar Fast Attack Missile Boat

The Houdong is a Chinese missile boat, based off of the Huangfeng missile boat, itself a copy of the Russian Osa class missile boats. It is armed with a four round launcher for the C-802 cruise missile, as well as a turreted twin 30mm cannon and crewed 23mm cannon for self defense. In total China reportedly sold Iran between 10 and 40 Houdong missile boats, officially named Thondar in Iranian service and possibly more than 80 C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles during the mid-1990s. These formed a major part of Iran's offensive naval capabilities during the 1990s.

In 1996, the China National Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation, a state-run enterprise, delivered 60 C-802 model cruise missiles to Iran. These missiles were mounted on patrol boats for use by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy. The China National Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation markets the C-802 in its sales brochure as a missile with "mighty attack capability" and "great firepower" for use against escort vessels such as the USS Stark. This was the same company that supplied missile technology to Pakistan, a transaction that led the United States Government to impose economic sanctions for violating US law and international non-proliferation guidelines.

In addition, China reportedly was supplying Iran with a land-based version of the C-802 cruise missile. Iran had been constructing several sites along its coastlines to accommodate Transporter-Erector-Launchers (TELs), from which the Iranian Revolutionary Guard could fire these cruise missiles at targets in both the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The C-802 model cruise missile provides the Iranian military a weapon with greater range, accuracy, reliability, and mobility than it previously possessed and shifted the balance of power in the Gulf region.

In November 1996, Iran conducted land, sea and air war games in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and successfully test-fired a C-802 anti-ship cruise missile from one of its Houdong patrol boats. Admiral Scott Redd, the former commander-in-chief of the United States Fifth Fleet stationed in the Gulf, said that the C-802 missiles gave Iran a "360-degree threat which can come at you from basically anywhere." Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert Einhorn told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on 11 April 1997, that the C-802 cruise missiles "pose new, direct threats to deployed United States forces."

Elaine Sciolino pointed out in her 20 April 1997, article in The New York Times, the potential for real conflict between the United States and Iran was significant, "when two enemy navies with vastly different military missions and governments that do not talk to each other are crowded into such a small, highly strategic body of water." The acquisition by Iran of advanced cruise missiles, like the C-802 model, had to be considered a serious threat to stability, given the explosive situation that already existed. Iran's intent seemed clear: to challenge the United States for predominance in the Gulf.

The United States sought to pressure China over these sales and their potentially destabilizing character. The Chinese government agreed to US requests in 1998 to halt further C-802 sales. Circumventing this restriction, Iran obtained a license to produce the weapons, primarily for its Thondar missile boats.

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