IRGCN Small Boat Tactics
Unlike IRIN tactics-founded on conventional naval operations during the days of the Shah, the IRGCN's tactics have grown from a combination of irregular warfare and ground force principles. Although the IRGCN has existed for more than 30 years - growing significantly more professional and structured during that time - it has eschewed a conventional approach to naval warfare in favor of asymmetric tactics and principles of irregular warfare. The results have been adaptable tactics that leverage surprise, speed, maneuverability, mass, and deception, and which ultimately manifest themselves in hit-and-run style attacks.
Although public statements from Iranian leadership routinely emphasize their "new" style of conducting asymmetric warfare at sea, IRGCN small boat tactics are neither new nor original but are typical of historical small boat warfare tactics. Thus, in seeking to understand the types of tactics used by the IRGCN, a review of the basic principles and tactics of small boat warfare is essential.
Small boats offer a number of tactical advantages when operated properly in the littoral. Most modern small boats are capable of high speeds, have very shallow drafts, can be difficult to detect because of their small size, and may not be positively identified even when detected. These advantages allow small boats to operate in areas where larger ships cannot, and their high speeds and greater maneuverability are well suited for conducting hit-and-i"un style attacks.
While small boats do have several advantages, they are also constrained by a number of tactical limitations. For example, small boats have limited sea keeping capability, limited operating ranges, and limited endurance. Additionally, they typically have a relatively small weapons load-out, little armor or protection for the crew, and difficulty firing weapons accurately due to platform instability. Thus, small boats will generally have to be close to their target to accurately employ their weapons, will have difficulty employing their weapons accurately at high speeds or when maneuvering, and will normally operate near shore or in shallow waters.
Most small boats conduct hit-and-run style attacks using surprise or deception, capitalizing on the surrounding environment. Small boats consistently attempt to use the geography to their advantage by engaging targets that are restricted in their maneuverability, such as vessels operating in areas of high traffic density, in straits, or vessels entering or leaving port. In order to exploit these tactical advantages and attempt to overcome their inherent disadvantages, small boats will most commonly operate in groups. Operating in groups affords small boats better combat capabilities through mutual protection while also increasing their offensive firepower. Small boat tactics vary slightly depending on whether they are operating in large groups, small groups, or independently.
For example, deception and surprise are more essential for a small boat operating independently. However, surprise and deception are more difficult for a large group of boats to achieve, so they will typically rely on mass and maneuver to overwhelm their target, anticipating that some of the small boats will penetrate a ship's defenses. The IRGCN has used groups of small boats since the mid-1980s, conducting a number of attacks on merchant shipping in the Tanker War. While generally operating in relatively small groups, the boats would approach the targeted vessel to very close range and then fire any number of weapons, which typically included machine guns and rocket propelled grenades, into the bridge and crew living spaces.
Current IRGCN small boat tactics are probably similar to historical IRGCN small boat tactics or, at a minimum, utilize the same principles. There is an abundance of literature available on IRGCN small boat "swarms," some stating that hundreds of boats may be used together.
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