The Buzz

How America Would Wage War against Iran

Battlelines have certainly formed over the last week, as debate over the Iran framework agreement heats up. Some love the deal; some hate the deal; others essentially say “no deal” and would presumably start bombing Iran now if they could. But one thing is crystal clear: we are a long way until June, when Iran and the P5+1 will need to craft a concrete deal on paper. John Kerry and Javid Zarif better start getting some extra z’s now, as they might not be sleeping much in the days approaching the final deadline.

As I noted last week, even if a deal is reached on Tehran’s nuclear program, America and Iran will still be at odds in many areas of the Middle East. Yes, in the short term, both nations have common cause in Iraq against ISIS, but what happens when that cause disappears at some point down the road? Both nations will once again be vying for sway in Iraq. So while the short-term trends in the relationship do have promise, the long game is the one that bears watching—no matter how excited the media gets about the deal.

Over the long term, Washington needs to be prepared to confront Iran in many areas of possible competition across the Middle East. Hopefully, competition with Tehran in the Middle East for influence and sway stays peaceful. Like America’s competition with China in the Asia-Pacific and larger Indo-Pacific, both nations will vie for power and influence for decades to come. The danger is that such competition can raise tensions, with tensions spilling into conflict. And a conflict between Iran and America, as we saw last week on these very pages, is something both sides must try to avoid at all costs.

This post takes a look at how Washington could wage a conflict against Iran if the moment ever came to pass. As I mentioned last week, one amazing piece of research when it comes to a U.S.-Iranian conflict—with special focus on Tehran’s A2/AD capabilities and how Washington can negate such capabilities—is the 2011 report released by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments titled: “Outside In: Operating from Range to Defeat Iran’s Anti-Access and Area-Denial Threats.” While America’s strategic thinking has certainly evolved since 2011(see the DoD version of Air-Sea Battle, or now JAM-GC, the 3rd offset strategy, etc.), the report gives us detailed insights into what would be possible if the unthinkable ever came to pass. The report notes that Iran is investing in capabilities to execute what the authors call a “hybrid A2/AD strategy” over the next two decades. CSBA recommends that the U.S. military “develop a new operational concept for future Persian Gulf contingencies, one that assumes that closein basing may not be available, all operating domains will be contested, and Iran may threaten terror and WMD attacks, including the use of nuclear weapons, to deter or prevent a successful U.S. military intervention in the Persian Gulf.”

So how does CSBA think a U.S. campaign against Iran would unfold? While I would recommend readers at the very least scan over the whole report as what I present here is only a very small sample of its contents, CSBA sees a “massive blinding campaign” being a big part of such a conflict, which, in some respects, is reminiscent of U.S. ideas on how Air-Sea Battle could be used against China:

At the start of hostilities, U.S. forces should move aggressively to degrade, disrupt, and destroy Iran’s C4ISR networks. U.S. counter-network operations should integrate long-range strikes, undersea warfare, electronic warfare, and offensive cyberspace operations against Iran’s early warning radars, maritime surveillance systems, and C2 facilities. Toward this end, bombers operating out of remote or peripheral bases and SSNs and SSGNs in the Arabian Sea would launch a first wave of kinetic strikes using precision-guided standoff weapons against Iran’s fixed sensors and C2 nodes. U.S. special operations forces inserted into Iran could augment these strikes by disabling known C4ISR assets that are difficult to kill with standoff weapons, such as nodes in fiber optics networks. Degrading Iran’s C4ISR networks and air defenses will help pave the way for U.S. Air Force and Navy penetrating aircraft to attack Iran’s mobile radars, and command and control systems.

America must also be prepared for what could happen in space and cyberspace: