Submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles, stealth bombers, aircraft carrier flown jet attacks or even U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assaults could all be within the realm of the possible should the U.S. be forced to respond to any kind of Iranian retaliation for last year’s killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
However likely such a prospect might be, it has again popped up on the radar following reports of some kind of planned Iranian attack on the anniversary of Soleimani’s death. While the U.S. will almost certainly not launch any kind of preemptive first strike, regardless of rhetoric coming from Iran, there has been a swift and strong response from the Pentagon about its resolve in deterring or responding to any attack.
The Pentagon has decided to keep heavy firepower in the region, in the form of the massively armed USS Nimitz. Specifics of any U.S. Naval configuration in the Persian Gulf or Gulf of Oman are not likely available for many reasons, yet it is certainly possible that the Nimitz might be flanked or supported by nearby Tomahawk missile-armed submarines, destroyers or cruisers.
“Due to the recent threats issued by Iranian leaders against President Trump and other U.S. government officials, I have ordered the USS Nimitz to halt its routine redeployment. The USS Nimitz will now remain on station in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. No one should doubt the resolve of the United States of America,” Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, said in a Pentagon statement.
President Trump also made a strong statement, saying through Twitter that “any attack by Iran, in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”
What might something like that look like? A massive, multi-pronged assault on Iran could have many interesting and dynamic facets. The first thing which naturally comes to mind would be the use of the often “first-to-strike” weapon, the Tomahawk cruise missile. Certainly, a submarine or surface ship volley of Tomahawks could be quite effective in taking out any of Iran’s fixed targets such as command and control centers, air defenses or even force concentrations should those kinds of targets be called for. Tomahawks can fly 900 nautical miles, draw upon a two-way data link for target-relay information and loiter over potential target areas for an optimal strike opportunity.
A combination of submarines and destroyers, for example, could simultaneously fire many of them, all while maritime and air forces remained at safter stand-off. Then, for potentially harder-to-reach targets potentially more fortified or likely to dynamically emerge, stealth bombers could be sent over Iran once defenses were softened by cruise missiles strikes. Stealth bombers, capable of any needed stand-in kinds of attacks, would likely perform their intended mission to open up an “air corridor” for less stealthy planes to maneuver into attack positions.
Perhaps a high-speed, maneuvering F-35 might be used as a stealthy attack fighter option as well. Iran may have a large arsenal of ballistic missiles, so any kind of initial coordinated military attack would likely focus upon destroying missile launch sites. Then there is the risk of mobile launchers, something China is known to possess. These missile-armed truck launchers could present maneuvering missile threats harder to target through weapons primarily focused upon fixed targets such as infrastructure or command centers. Perhaps here is where an F-35 might come in, as it could use speed, stealth and its array of long-range, high fidelity sensors to get a track on, and destroy, rapidly emerging mobile launchers.
Concerns such as this may be one reason why Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was quoted voicing concerns about Russian and Chinese weapons sales to Iran.
“We are going to act in a way—and we have acted in a way—that will prevent Iran from being able to purchase Chinese tanks and Russian air defence systems and resell weapons to Hezbollah,” Pompeo said, according to a quote in Aljazeera.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University