Last week, Iranian media reportedly released footage of a U.S. submarine that was apparently taken near an Iranian Navy training exercise near the Strait of Hormuz. The footage, which was posted on the social media platform Twitter by a user known as Aurora Intel, was reported to have been taken from an Iranian Navy SH-3 Sea King helicopter.
Writing for NavalNews.com, noted submarine expert H I Sutton suggested the location and timing almost certainly indicated that the U.S. Ohio-class submarine was the USS Georgia (SSGN 729) that may have been detected by the Iranian forces, but the circumstances remain unclear. The boat transited into the waters of the Persian Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz on December 21. At the time the submarine was escorted by U.S. Navy cruisers and patrol boats while surfaced.
As Sutton noted, the exact circumstances of the shallow pass seen in the Iranian footage are unclear. Georgia could be seen at periscope depth in the video. The U.S. Navy submarine was certainly shadowing the Iran exercises, which included a test of a cruise missile. That followed a previous test-fire of a missile that Iranian state TV said had a range of some 280 km (275 miles).
The Persian Gulf isn’t generally considered an ideal location for large submarines such as those of the Ohio-class—as it is shallow in parts and has only a maximum depth of ninety meters (295 feet) and an average depth of just fifty meters (164). While the inland sea is some 251,000 square km (96,912 square miles), it is also only fifty-six km (thirty-five miles) wide at the Strait of Hormuz.
That doesn’t give submarines such as Georgia a whole lot of room to navigate.
At the same time Iran has been using its first domestically-produced submarine, the Fateh (Conqueror), in the region. The vessel was first unveiled at a ceremony at the Bandar Abbas naval base in February 2019. One is currently active and two more are reported to be under construction, while a total of ten have been planned.
Iran’s submarine force is the most numerous and technically capable arm of its navy. Tehran currently operates around twenty-eight submarines. While unlikely to match the U.S. Navy’s capabilities, the Islamic Republic’s subs would likely be the spearhead of any anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) campaign to seal off the Strait of Hormuz.
The U.S. Navy hasn’t confirmed that it was the USS Georgia that was spotted monitoring the Iranian Navy’s exercises.
“We don’t talk about submarine operations,” Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, told ABC News last Thursday.
However, while likely that it was the Georgia, it would be a boat that the Iranians wouldn’t want to mess with—as the Ohio-class SSGNs are considerably well-armed and carry 154 Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles. It is easy to see how a misstep by either side could have devastating consequences.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.