Why Iran’s Navy is Missing Three Submarines

January 7, 2021 Topic: Security Region: Middle East Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: Kilo-ClassIranKilo-Class SubmarineIranian NavySanctions

Why Iran’s Navy is Missing Three Submarines

All in for repairs at the same time?


Here's What You Need to Remember: Kilos displace around 2,500 tons when surfaced and are not easy to move by land. Their home port, Bandar Abbas, is thought to be fully equipped for refitting, repairs, and overhauls.

In a video making the rounds on social media, one of Iran’s three Kilo-class submarines can be seen being transported by truck somewhere, presumably for serious repairs. In the video, the Kilo is secured to a massive lowboy, towed by one or possibly two trucks.


Soviet Kilos

The Kilo-class was originally designed by the Soviet Union, and first entered service with their Navy in 1980. The diesel-electric attack submarines are relatively small compared to some of the Soviet Union’s other ballistic missile behemoths. Still, they are capable littoral hulls, designed to hunt American submarines and take down enemy shipping closer to shore, rather than farther out at sea in deeper waters. Though somewhat aged, the Kilo-class are still potent hunters—particularly the improved Kilo-class, which feature extensive sound absorbent coating both inside and out

Iranian Kilo-class

During the early- to mid-1990s, Iran secured three of the former Soviet Union’s Kilo-class submarines during Russia’s post-Soviet Union equipment sell-off. In Iran, the class is known as the Tareq-class and is based at Iran’s Bandar Abbas, which hosts a large shipping and naval port.

While Iran’s Kilo-class are arguably the most capable submarines in the Persian Gulf when deployed, they are not particularly suited to the Gulf’s shallow waters. In a quirk of geography, the Gulf is deepest on the Iranian side, at around 300 feet or about 90 meters, whereas depth decreases nearer to the Arabian side, to about 120 feet (35 meters) or less. Though littoral submarines, the Soviet-designed Kilos are designed to patrol in waters approximately 160 feet or deeper. Their movement in the Gulf is restricted as a consequence.

Iran has struggled to maintain foreign military equipment domestically, particularly naval equipment, despite several quirky domestic submarine designs. This truck-mounted Kilo might be no exception. From the video, the submarine appears to be missing some of its anechoic coating, which is a rubberized title coating that reduces a submarine’s acoustic signature by absorbing enemy sonar. It also appears to be quite dirty—or perhaps corroded. Which brings us to why this Kilo—one or Iran’s most capable submarines—is on a truck bed and not in the water?


Kilos displace around 2,500 tons when surfaced and are not easy to move by land. Their home port, Bandar Abbas, is thought to be fully equipped for refitting, repairs, and overhauls. So where is this hull headed? Conclusions remain speculative, but one thing could be inferred—the Iranian Navy is hurting and might not be able to repair one of the most potent weapons in their naval arsenal. As a result, Iranian capabilities in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz are likely significantly lessened.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture. This article first appeared last year and is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters