Thursday, June 25, 2009

Abu Musa Analysis

Abu Musa

***Revised and Updated - October 17th 2010 ***

The Island of Abu Musa is located almost exactly halfway between Iran and the UAE near the Western entrance to the Straits of Hormuz. It's position commands an important geostrategic position, commanding a powerful view over shipping lanes. Because of this, it, along with the Tunb islands, have been the subject of border disputes between Iran and the UAE including the 1971 seizure of the three islands by Imperial Iran and the later militarization by the Islamic Republic during the 1990's. (1)

For those interested in the complete history, both Global Security and The American University in Washington DC offer fairly comprehensive reviews, even if the specifics on some of the military aspects are questionable.

Global Security:

American University in Washington DC:

The major modern buildup of forces on Abu Musa came in the 1990's when Iran was purported to have stationed 4 thousand troops on the island, along with SA-6 and HAWK SAMs, 155mm artillery, Korean-war era tanks and HY-2 AShMs. (2)

Since then the presence has apparently fallen, removing most of the new equipment that was brought onto the island, there still remains a substantial military presence.

Perhaps most interesting is the case of the tanks. Their identity is a mystery beyond being "Korean-era" which could include tanks from Iran's stock of M-24 light tanks M-4 tanks or M-36 tank destroyers. Tanks, especially such old ones, are an odd choice on face, however historically Iran has used these type of tanks in the modern era as pillboxes along the border with Iraq and were among the first forces to come into contact with the invading Iraqi army in 1980. This is probably the most likely method of deployment on Abu Musa, especially given that their most likely resting-place is the series of revetments on the south-east of the island.

Artillery is reported to be 155 mm, but satellite imagery points to the 122 mm D-30 gun as characterized by their unique triple-trail design. One battery (six guns) is layed out in a staggered line somewhat centrally located north-east of the airport terminal. Deployment role is unknown, whether intended to be used as a coastal defense gun, as support for any skirmishes on the island itself, or in the direct-fire role.

As Always, Click to Enlarge Images

Anti-ship missiles are almost without a doubt located on the Island, the first rumors of them coming in 1994 and 1995 when HY-2's were purported to be moved to the Island. But now, it's anyone's guess what missiles now are stored on the Island.

SCUD's were also said to have moved to the Island, and given Irans use of BM's as keystone strategy, it's not that unlikely. However, given the size of the island, it would probably be difficult to fire a liquid-fueled missile without anyone knowing about it well in advance. Today, other missiles are definitely a possibility, whether they be SCUDs or smaller TBMs, though no specific evidence can be pointed to for their deployment.

Abu Musa hosts several bunker complexes and entrenched positions, varying from concrete bunkers for AShM's to earthen revetments.

The most notable among them is a relatively recent egg-shaped bunker on the north of the Island (as evidenced by the different colored earth indicating a recent disturbance). The bunker is hedge-hogged with concrete ports (10+) that likely serve for firing AShMs or additional egress points connected to a large central portion.

Another readily identifiable above ground bunker-complex is located on the south-eastern section of the island just behind the road circling the island near the patch of trees. They are arrayed in a straight line facing inward toward the island. There are a total of seven visible bunkers in two sections, five in one line and 250 m south another two. All of these bunkers appear to have a protuberance sticking out of their roofs, probably a vent.

A third site can be found around 530 m further down the road circling the island after the "two"-cluster of bunkers mentioned above can also be found arrayed in a line of four; a slight change in design is possible, but the washed out quality of the image prevents further comment.

A number of other geographic features around the island are possibly bunkers but cannot be 100% confirmed as not being something else. The most likely "something else" in this scenario are bulldozers piling up dirt from some other excavation, and by pushing up berms, create the illusion of underground ramps where none exist. Sites like these can be found alongside the eastern coast.
The south-west of the Island, according to David Isenberg of the CATO institute, holds more underground storage bunkers that hold "HY-2 anti-ship missiles...and SCUD-C's". (New3) A claim that cannot be verified due to the poor quality of the imagery in this area.
Beyond bunkers, there also exist revetments on the south-eastern corner of the island that are of note. With an internal diameter of roughly 7.5 m x 18 m, the are the most likely spots for the 'Korean-war vintage tanks' that are rumored to be deployed on the island.

Air Defense:
The primary AD asset on Abu Musa are a large number of static Zu-23-2 AAA (possibly with several 35 mm guns) emplacements dotting the coast. These are typically characterized by a concrete pad relatively close to a road (~50 m).
Most obvious is the abandoned HAWK SAM site located south of the runway and alongside the eastern side of the island.
An abandoned Skyguard site can be found on the southern side of the south-east corner. It now only holds a single AAA emplacement where the radar would normally be positioned.
An SA-6 was reported in the 1990's, but no evidence of it now exists on the island. Possible they served as organic air defense for the brigade-sized element then stationed on the island and was removed when the force was drawn down as appears happened with the HAWK SAM.
(1) "Abu Musa Island" Global Security 10/15/08
(2) "Abu Musa Island Dispute Between Iran and the UAE" American University in Washington DC.
(3) "US Military and Iran pt 5" David Isenberg CATO Institute 12/19/97
Imagery via Google Earth

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran Presidential Elections 2009 - Reactions and Responses

This post is going to be a bit less formal then all the others, namely because i'm just going to be writing this off the top of my head rather then having a prepared paper that I would go back and edit and rewrite before posting.

First, i'm fairly apathetic about the whole thing and I feel like i shouldn't because i'm so attached to the political proceedings of the region, but frankly i've never felt strongly one way or another about Ahmadinejad, sure, at times he annoyed me with his rhetoric and his inability to run the country, but he never did anything that egregious. Mousavi on the other hand seems competant in the fact that he is a much more intellectual persona then Ahmadinejad ever is, he has proven himself managing the economy during the Iran-Iraq war and would enter into meaningful diologue with the rest of the world (Supreme leader permitting of course), but again, i never got that excited about him.

Second is the question of election fraud, while I believe that there is an extremely strong chance of the election being rigged, there is also the possibiltiy of Ahmadinejad actually won, i mean, in 2005 he won against Rafsanjani with roughly the same percentage (~60%).

Third, the protests have transformed more and more to be a referendum on democracy rather then only just the elections themselves. While i support the rise of a stonger democracy in Iran, i am also a fan of the Islamic Republic.... Maybe its just the fact that all the news programs i've been watching pro-democracy protests stateside that all consist either of people who fled in 1979 because of their connections with the shah (CNN was interviewing this one woman whom i just detested) or are all young kids of these ex-pat's who have never been to Iran, this evokes the old adage "an enemy of my enemy is my friend", in this case i guess i subconciously connect the protestors with the Shah even though i rationally know it not to be true.

In conclusion, the scenes from Iran have simply failed to raise my ire, i feel no emotion when i see them, this is in stark contrast to when the Gaza war happened at the beginning of this year and i felt real anger and i cried out for, and genuinely lusted for blood.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

IRGCN Naval Bases

The information in the section is currently being reviewed and updated and should not be taken as being 100% accurate. - October 9th 2010

3rd Naval District – Mahshahr

Commanded by a Colonel Taghipour-Rezaie, that being said though, there is no follow up information about the experience or beliefs of Taghipour-Rezaie. Mahshahr used to be the headquarters for the Iranian navy, but lost the title to Bandar Abbas in the later days of the Shah, consequently, it has been on the lower end of the rung in terms of upgrades to facilities, and likely on par with Bushehr, as the protection of the nuclear facility gains more and more value. This is evidenced by the lack of the valuable and advanced Thondar missile craft at Mahshahr. In fact, the most advanced vessel apparent are IPS-16/Paykaap or the ‘vanilla’ version of the IPS-18, i.e. those without C-802’s. The majority of the vessels at the base belong to the Boghammer variety, while not necessarly the Swedish boat that bears the name, but rather any type of small boat equipped with weapons such as the DHsK or 107 rockets. All of this is apparent through readily apparent satellite photography like ‘Google Earth’. These reflect the local geographic needs of a base near the Shat-al-Arab waterways with extremely shallow, marshy waters that would hamper boats with a heavy draft. Another possible vessel is the Taedong B/C semi-submersible boat of North Korean origin. Although they were originally delivered to Bandar Abbas in 2002 , I believe they were transferred north on a later date. However, looking back at the pictures, there is a substantial chance that they are IPS-16’s due to their length and shape of the hull, look to the pictures from Bandar Abbas for comparison. Another purpose for this base is in mine laying for the northern sector, this was demonstrated during the 2006 ‘Holy Prophet’ wargames.

However the choice to relatively abandon Mahshahr with little funding may come back later in a negative way if they ever have to prepare for conflict with the US or Iraq, while the Straights of Hormuz may be the chokepoint for the world oil, the Shat-al-Arab waterway is the closest IRGCN base to the military forces of both the US and Iraq, meaning that they would have a unique avenue to attack the opposition forces, and that negligence of such areas is foolish given the value. Although it can also be argued that all the resupply that could be targeted by the 3rd District could just as easily be destroyed in the straights and that other IRGC divisions that are based out of southern cities such Dezful, whith emphasis placed on the latter given that the IRGC has established large training camps in the general area of Khorramshahr.

2nd Naval District – Bandar-e Bushehr
The Bushehr naval base has been gaining more and more importance in the recent years as the nuclear facilities have become more and more central to Irans larger strategy, leading to increased military presence for protections. The IRGCN base is commanded by Sardar Ali Razmjou . The most prominent presence at Bushehr is its large storage and refurbishment facilities. These docks provide the majority of the domestic upgrades to naval vessels in the IRGCN. These are complemented by the equally large research and development facilities. Also present are storage facilities for which it is likely that smaller vessels are stored so as to disguise their presence and protect them from and air strikes; however there is no 100% corroboration for this tactic.

One of the most valuable tools in assessing the composition of the Bushehr fleet is by publically available satellite imagery like Google earth. It allows you to view most ships at naval bases and correctly ID them, gaining a fairly large knowledge about the composition of each bases fleet. What can be found from this satellite imagery is that the stock of Kaman(Sina) class missile boats. 9 ships are immediately evident on the north-eastern inner harbour. The final 10th ship is not visible. At least 4 of the IRGCN’s next largest missile boat are visible just south-west of the main city of Bushehr, along with 2 IPS-18 FAC’s. One would think this is an extremely small amount of IPS-18’s whereas they would normally operate in a larger “swarm”, although given the connotations of that term with the IRGCN, “hunter-killer” teams would be a more apt name. There are three possible explanations for this. The first is that they are in the docks for refitting with the Kowsar missiles, and will later be sent to join the rest of the IPS-16/18 fleet in Bandar Abbas. The second explanation is that the rest of the boats are hidden within shelters in order to protect them. The third possibility is that they others are simply in dry dock receiving the Kowsar upgrades and are spread out over the are and because of the work being done, are unidentifiable. The next small missile boat is the ‘China Cat’, much like the IPS-18, armed with Kowsars, but being shorter. Five are seen in the same harbour as the Thondar and IPS, with an at least an additional 1-2 in dry dock next to the Kaman’s. Another possible presence is that of the even smaller Boghammer/Ashura fast attack craft that are really only speedboats with machineguns and rocket launchers. These would be hidden among the fishing fleets, unidentifiable and dispersed throughout the city in the same way as in Mahshahr. I mentioned the litany of ships in the docks for retrofit, i have to emphasize at this point that there are tons of vessels in there, some are military, some aren’t, some are stationed at Busherhr, some aren’t, at this point, anymore I would say about it would be merely shots in the dark.

1st Naval District – Bandar-e Abbas

Bandar Abbas is the headquarters of both the regular Iranian navy and of the IRGCN. It is also home to the Shahid Darvishi shipbuilding industries that has produced surprisingly small amount of ships for the IRGCN, probably due to the fact that the IRIN has to cannibalize all their other ships and rebuild 30-year old designs while the IRGCN gets new ships purchased from China and North Korea.

As with the Mahshahr and Bushehr harbours, the most useful tool for assessing the strength of the fleet is satellite imagery. One problem though is determining what is an IRGCN craft, and what is the regular navy. For support craft, it is near impossible, but a good general rule is that the large destroyers and frigates belong to the regular navy while the fast attack craft and the smaller missile boats belong to the IRGC. Fortunately, one is usually able to distinguish the important ships from one another. Starting out from opening of the port is the large amount, more then 35, of small boghammer style boats. There are two distinguishing features for this set that makes them stand out from the fleet at Mahshahr or Bushehr. First is that they are all the same king meaning that they are not fishing vessels pressed into service, but rather, purpose-build, military-spec and armed with DShK’s, 107 mm rockets and are built for speed and agility, rather then trolling for fish.

The second feature is that they are all on land rather then sitting in the water. I must admit that I am unsure as to what this means, maybe they were just received from the factory, or they were taken out for a new coat of paint or installation of weapons, or maybe they’re simply all in storage as there is no purpose for them to be in the water. Immediately next to the boghammers are the IPS-16 torpedo boats, distinguishable from the larger IPS-18 half a kilometre to the north by having a less defined rear section and by being 5 meters shorter. There are 6 in the water with another 7 sitting on land just next to the dock, also without explanation just like the boghammers next to them. To the north are 3 Thondar class missile craft along with IPS-18 torpedo boats, they appear to be the same, due to similarity of landmarks, as the Fars News photo shoot where IRGC officials were being given a tour of the facility, leading me to believe there are 1 more of each type of vessel, for a total of 4 Thondar and IPS-18 vessels. This means that the serial for each ship are, respectively, P-313 7, P-313 5, P-313 10, P-313 9, and for the IPS-18’s, IPS 18.4, IPS 18.”?”, IPS 18.7, IPS 18.2. This is then helpful when viewing pictures of wargames, one can assume that some of the Taedong’s semi-submersibles are also stationed at Bandar Abbas because they are featured in the same pictures. There seems to be a few China cats sprinkled throughout, but without Kowsars. The IRGCN’s Ghadirs are occasionally found here next to their larger brothers the Kilo. Never more then two are ever seen at anyone time leading me to believe that is their total inventory. The final member are the Mi-17’s operated by naval aviation. Only 4 are visible, but facilities indicate 6 are available at any one time

Khark Island
A major oil hub off the coast near Bushehr, the IRGC has been tasked with defending it against operations like the ones that took other oil platforms during Praying Mantis, as well as to serve as a forward guard for Bushehr. Just south of the main oil platform there is a rather large FAC that is about 33 meters long, looks something like the Thondar, but has a different radar mast and is equipped with a shorter missile launcher then the Noor, most likely the Kowsar. Just north of the main platform are four fast attack craft, either the MIG-S-1800 or the MIG-S-1900 class.In the same harbour there are a number of boghammers, the same Ashura class that are found elsewhere.

This base has recently been upgraded in 2008, possibly to the level of Mahshahr or Bushehr, however no information is available because the satellite imagery is out of date. What is available shows a hodgepodge of small ships including the generic boghammers, a single IPS-18 and China Cat and what very likely is two indigenous torpedo catamarans.

Lavan Island
Home to a single FAC, like the Thondar-like craft, but armed with Kowsars instead. Its also possible that it’s the same ship due to the different date in imagery. A bohammer armed with a 107 mm rocket launcher is also visible, not on satellite imagery, but a user-submitted photo.

Kish Island
Kish is home to the famous “Kish Expo” that showcases new Iranian military technology every year. The defence force for the small island is composed of several Mig-S-2600 and a Mig-S-1800 patrol craft.

Qeshm Island

Although no vessels are readily apparent because half the island is clouded in poor resolution imagery, it is intuitive to guess that there is a naval force here equal to or greater then that at Khark because it too is a forward shield for any strikes upon a large ship yard. What we do know is that large numbers, at least 60 missiles, of C-802 anti-ship missiles were placed there in the mid nineties hidden within coastal batteries.

1) Korea Delivers Semi-Submersible Gunships to Iran, Washington Times, December 16, 2002.

2) Iran Tests Fastest Underwater Missile Iran Daily

3) Signs of Iran’s Hand in Iraq Time Magazine March 18th 2008,00.html

4) Iran’s Asymmetric Naval Warfare Washington Institute Policy Focus no. 87 September 2008

5) “Bandar-E Bushehr” Global Security 10/07/08

6) Bandar-e Abbas Global Security

7) Iran Opens Fourth Naval Base in Persian Gulf Fars News Agency 11/18/208

8) C-802 / YJ-2 / Ying Ji-802 / CSS-C-8 / SACCADE
C-8xx / YJ-22 / YJ-82 Global Security No Date