“America, with its strategic ignorance, does not have a full understanding of the power of the Islamic Republic” Iranian Revolutionary Guard Brig. Gen. Hossein "Skippy" Salami recently LOL'd.
Looking at any map reveals a whole host of challenges. From Yemen, to Syria, to Lebanon and over the long term in Iraq, it is quite clear Washington and Tehran have too many areas of contention for their relationship to turn rosey.
While many in the Middle East and beyond fear Iran’s possible nuclear aspirations, such weapons are only a part of a much bigger geostrategic challenge.
Chinese style anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD). While nowhere near as advanced as China’s various sea mines, ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, cyber weapons and C2 and C4ISR systems, Iranian A2/AD still packs quite a punch.
If Iran decided, for whatever reason, to strike first and strike decisively—the best way to utilize any A2/AD force. The best research to guide us in such a discussion is a 2011 report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) that looks at Iranian A2/AD capabilities and possible U.S. responses, titled: “Outside-In: Operating from Range to Defeat Iran’s Anti-Access/Area-Denial Threats.”
The scenario also assumes a U.S. force posture at roughly 2011-levels. While these qualifiers do detract slightly from the accuracy of the scenario, CSBA does show the reader quite effectively what Iran could do.
Using coastal radars, UAVs, and civilian vessels for initial targeting information, Iranian surface vessels could swarm U.S. surface combatants in narrow waters, firing a huge volume of rockets and missiles in an attempt to overwhelm the Navy’s AEGIS combat system and kinetic defenses like the Close-In Weapons System and Rolling Airframe Missile, and possibly drive U.S. vessels toward prelaid minefields. Shore-based ASCMs and Klub-K missiles launched from “civilian” vessels may augment these strikes.And jam up the Straights of Hormuz
Iran’s offensive maritime exclusion platforms could exploit commercial maritime traffic and shore clutter to mask their movement and impede U.S. counter-targeting. While these attacks are underway, Iran could use its SRBMs and proxy forces to strike U.S. airfields, bases, and ports. Iran will likely seek to overwhelm U.S. and partner missile defenses with salvos of less accurate missiles before using more accurate SRBMs armed with submunitions to destroy unsheltered aircraft and other military systems. Proxy groups could attack forward bases using presighted guided mortars and rockets, and radiation-seeking munitions to destroy radars and C4 nodes."
After initial attacks to attrite U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, Iran will likely use its maritime exclusion systems to control passage through the Strait of Hormuz. Mine warfare should feature prominently in Iranian attempts to close the Strait. As with many of its A2/AD systems, Iran could employ a combination of “smart” influence mines along with large quantities of less capable weapons such as surface contact mines. Iran may deploy many of its less sophisticated mines from a variety of surface vessels, while it reserves its submarine force to lay influence mines covertly.
Iran could deploy its land-based ASCMs from camouflaged and hardened sites to firing positions along its coastline and on Iranian-occupied islands in the Strait of Hormuz while placing decoys at false firing positions to complicate U.S. counterstrikes. Hundreds of ASCMs may cover the Strait, awaiting target cueing data from coastal radars, UAVs, surface vessels, and submarines. Salvo and multiple axis attacks could enable these ASCMs to saturate U.S. defenses. Similar to the way in which Iran structured its ballistic missile attacks, salvos of less capable ASCMs might be used to exhaust U.S. defenses, paving the way for attacks by more advanced missiles."