Armed speedboats belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy habitually harass U.S. Navy and allied vessels in the Persian Gulf, in particular in the strategic Strait of Hormuz that connects the Gulf to the open ocean.
Now those boats have farther-flying missiles, the militia claimed.
The IRGCN now possesses ship-launched anti-ship missiles with a range as far as 430 miles, naval militia leader Adm. Ali Reza Tangsiri told Iranian state media.
As recently as September 2020, the militia said its best anti-ship missile could travel just 180 miles, Defense News noted.
The missile claim could have implications for tensions in the Gulf region.
The IRGCN’s boats in mid-April 2020 sailed dangerously close to a group of U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels practicing helicopter operations.
Eleven Iranian fast attack craft “repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches of the USS Lewis B. Puller, USS Paul Hamilton, USS Firebolt, USS Sirocco, USCGC Wrangell and USCGC Maui while the U.S. vessels were conducting joint integration operations with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf,” the Navy stated.
Puller is a sea-base ship with a large flight deck. Hamilton is a guided-missile destroyer. Firebolt and Sirocco are patrol boats. Wrangell and Maui are Coast Guard cutters. Puller’s battle group had been practicing deploying Apaches for strikes on small craft just like the type that harassed the group.
“The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller with a 50 yard closest point of approach and within 10 yards of Maui‘s bow,” the Navy stated.
On April 22, 2020, U.S. president Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that he was authorizing the Navy to “shoot down and destroy” Iranian boats that harass American vessels.
Trump however did not formally instruct the Navy to change its rules of engagement. The Navy periodically fires warning shots near Iranian boats but as a matter of policy does not attack the boats for the mere act of operating unprofessionally. It’s worth noting that U.S. forces also have operated in close, even dangerous, proximity to Iranian forces.
“What he was emphasizing is all of our ships retain the right of self-defense, and people need to be very careful in their interactions to understand the inherent right of self-defense,” Deputy U.S. Defense Secretary David Norquist told NBC News.
The back-and-forth claims and threats mark another month of escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.
Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the United States from the deal that limited Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Iranian missileers in June 2019 shot down a U.S. Navy Global Hawk spy drone flying near the Strait of Hormuz. In January 2020 U.S. forces assassinated IRGC leader Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. Iran retaliated with barrages of rockets targeting American facilities in the region.
Longer-range missiles could make the IRGCN more dangerous in wartime. It’s not clear whether or how the new munitions might alter the militia’s tactics during peacetime.