Iran has two independent naval forces with parallel chains of command. The conventional navy is called the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN). The second is the naval wing of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGCN). The two navies have overlapping functions and areas of responsibility, but they are distinct in terms of how they are trained and equipped— and more importantly also in how they fight.
The backbone of the regular navy’s inventory consists of larger surface ships, including frigates and corvettes, and submarines. With its longer range surface assets, the IRIN is generally considered to be a conventional “green water” navy. It operates at a regional level, mainly in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman but also as far afield as the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Revolutionary Guards naval force has a large inventory of small fast attack craft, and specializes in asymmetric, hit-and-run tactics. It is more akin to a guerrilla force at sea. Both navies maintain large arsenals of coastal defense and anti-ship cruise missiles and mines.
In 2007, the two navies underwent a major reorganization of their responsibilities, with the IRGCN assuming control over operations in the Persian Gulf and the IRIN mainly focusing its efforts outside the Gulf. Both fleets are organized on geographic lines, with district commands along Iran’s southern and northern littorals.
The first naval district for both commands is co-located in Bandar Abbas, near the Strait of Hormuz, suggesting that both services have overlapping responsibilities in this strategically significant area. Recently, the Revolutionary Guards Navy set up an additional district command in Bandar Lengeh that is responsible for defending Iran’s numerous islands in the Gulf.
How do Iranian naval capabilities compare to Great Satan"s naval capabilities?
Iran’s military leaders recognize that Great Satan is a technologically superior adversary and that Iranian naval forces would suffer major losses in any conventional conflict. For this reason, they have developed an asymmetric strategy that plays to Iran’s strengths while taking advantage of their adversaries’ weaknesses, including the U.S. aversion to casualties.
Geography plays a central role in this regard. The confined operating space in the Gulf and especially the narrow Strait of Hormuz complicates U.S. operations and mitigates some of the U.S. Navy’s technological advantages. In a conflict, Iran’s naval forces would seek to overwhelm their adversaries’ defenses with mines, coastal defense cruise missiles, and swarms of small boats. Submarines and frigates would form the outer ring of Iran’s layered defense strategy.
While the U.S. Navy would almost certainly prevail in an extended conflict, Iran’s naval forces would likely seek to inflict enough casualties to raise the cost of victory to an unpalatable level.
Iran held a wide-ranging naval exercise in December 2012. What new capabilities did Iran demonstrate — and what was its message to its neighbors and Great Satan?
Velayat 91, a combined Iranian Navy and Air Force exercise, featured test launches of a variety of missile systems as well as naval and amphibious maneuvers. The extensive testing of anti-ship cruise missiles was particularly noteworthy. So were the testing of the new Ra’d air defense missile — an “optimized” version of the Russian S-200 — and several subsurface warfare drills. Iranian maneuvers also featured the IRIN’s new, domestically produced Tondar hovercraft.