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Navy Doctrine - Elements

While asymmetry is the cornerstone of Iran's access denial strategy, there are many other concepts that Iran is incorporating into its naval construct. Passive defense, capitalizing on favorable geography, and the primacy of Iran's moral cause are important factors in Iran's naval planning.

Passive Defense

In both 1991 and 2003, much of Iraq's defenses, military infrastructure, and forces were destroyed early in the conflict by United States and Coalition air power. Iran appears to understand that its forces must be able to withstand such an initial attack in order to fight back. From this need for survival, Iran's naval forces have developed plans for passive defense, seeking to ensure that assets remain available after an initial strike.

Iran defines passive defense as "a defense without weapons [which] comprises a range of measures that reduce vulnerability and increase endurance against foreign threats." Measures such as camouflage, concealment, and deception are probably key elements in Iran's passive defense plans. Potential examples of these measures include hiding platforms along Iran's coastline, which is filled with islands, inlets, and coves, as well as a plethora of oil-related infrastructure. The IRGC has also built tunnels and underground bunkers on the Persian Gulf islands which could provide protection from initial strikes.


In addition to passive defense efforts, Iran has embraced what it calls a "mosaic defense." This strategy essentially decentralizes the command structure, making Iranian forces more resilient in the face of initial strikes against their command and control architecture. According to Fariborz Haghshenass of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: "Speedboats will be taken out of camouflaged coastal or inland hide sites and bunkers, hauled on trailers to coastal release points, and given mission-type orders that will not require them to remain in contact with their chain if command. Each unit of such teams will be assigned a naval sector if operation where, in the event of a conflict, enemy naval assets or civilian maritime traffic will be attacked."


While controlling the Strait of Hormuz is the key tool by which Iran could internationalize any conflict, it has other options as well. Iran could strike regional countries that actively support or participate in a conflict against the Islamic Republic in an attempt to dissuade them from following such a course. According to former IRIN Rear Admiral Ashkbus Daneh-Kar, "There are numerous ports, oil terminals, industrial installations and rich resources in the Persian Gulf area-on the coastal areas, in the continental shelf and on the numerous islands. As a result, the Persian Gulf becomes specifically a vulnerable target for special [commando] operations..."

Capitalizing on Favorable Geography

Iran's naval leadership has stated that today's threats across the world are sea-based and Iran needs to design its naval forces and strategy to defend against them. Iran's four strategic maritime areas are the Gulf of Oman, the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf, and the Caspian Sea. Each of these areas has its own unique geography and challenges leading Iran to tailor defense plans by location. Geography is especially important with regard to the narrow Strait of Hormuz as it gives Iran the potential to disrupt the world's economy. Ingressing or egressing warships must pass through mineable waters within the range of a variety of weapons including coastal defense cruise missiles, significantly increasing the ships' vulnerability.

Iran also has developed tactics based on the water depth and confined nature of the Persian Gulf. Maneuvering in some parts can be difficult due to the shallow waters more suited to small boats. Also, Iran's 1,000 nautical miles of coastline contains many coves and marshes in which small boats could hide from enemy forces. Because the Gulf is less than 100 nautical miles wide in many places, coastal defense cruise missiles would be able to reach targets in nearby shipping lanes.

Political Victory Trumps Military Victory

A unique, but key, component of Iran's concept of naval strategy is its religious underpinning. According to Fariborz Haghshenass, Iran relies on the military's allegiance to the rule of the country's religious regime, promotes resilience in the face of adversity, and glorifies Iran's culture of jihad and martyrdom. These ideas provide an extra dimension to the naval strategy and may give the Iranian warfighter extra motivation, similar to the concept of patriotism for the American warfighter. Iranian military leaders often publicly tout the moral superiority of Iran's fighting forces.

An emerging theory of warfare states that the world has moved from the third generation of warfare, consisting of large armies moving against each other, to a fourth generation of warfare in which a smaller force would use asymmetric tactics to survive a conflict against a technologically superior enemy. According to Colonel Thomas Hammes, author of The Sling and the Stone, the fourth generation of war uses "all available networks-political, economic, social, and military-to convince the enemy's political decision makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit. It does not attempt to win by defeating the enemy's military forces. Instead ... it directly attacks the minds of enemy decision makers to destroy the enemy's political will."

In an effort to attack political will, Iranian leadership has stated that if the United States took military action against Iran, "200,000 American soldiers will be seriously imperiled in the region," and that "the US Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf would be turned into a 'sea of fire." Iran is also prepared to spread the conflict beyond the Persian Gulf, and leaders have publicly stated that Iran would attack American interests around the world. Iran is aware that a conflict in the Persian Gulf would make the region the focus of the world's political considerations.

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Page last modified: 21-02-2014 18:47:16 ZULU