Spencer Ackerman – Wired.com March 16, 2012
Sending more aircraft carriers to the waters near Iran, it turns out, was just the start. Yes, the U.S. currently has more seapower aimed at Iran in the Persian Gulf than in the fleets of most countries on Earth, Iran included. But that was just the Navy cracking its knuckles.
In the next few months, the Navy will double its minesweeper craft stationed in Bahrain, near Iran, from four to eight. Those ships will be crucial if Iran takes the drastic step of mining the Strait of Hormuz, one of the global energy supply’s most crucial waterways. Four more MH-53 “Sea Stallion” helicopters, another minesweeping tool, are also getting ready for Bahrain, to give the U.S. Fifth Fleet early warning for any strait mining.
Then the Navy will prepare to get closer to Iranian shores. Much closer. It’s got five close-action patrol boats in the Gulf right now. Once the Coast Guard returns three that the Navy loaned out, the Navy will have five other patrol craft in the United States. All those boats are getting retrofitted. With Gatling guns. And missiles.
Sure, the guns aboard the two aircraft carriers currently near Iran are the seapower equivalent of high-powered, long-range rifles. “But maybe what you need is like a sawed-off shotgun,” capable of doing massive damage from a closer distance, said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Navy’s senior officer. All 10 of those patrol boats, Greenert told reporters at a Friday breakfast in Washington, will get strapped with the Mk-38 Gatling Gun and should make it to the Gulf next year. (Though, alas, they won’t have the Gatling/laser gun mashup BAE Systems is working on.) They’ll also get close-range missiles that can hit Iranian shores from four miles away — the same kinds Navy SEALs use.
Consider it Teddy Roosevelt’s gunboat diplomacy for the 21st century. Over plates of greasy eggs and bacon, Greenert outlined a plan to give the U.S. what is almost certainly the biggest stick the Navy has ever had in the Gulf. The idea, which he didn’t make explicit, is to convince Iran to think long and hard before ever messing with either the U.S.’s Arab allies across the Gulf or disrupting a narrow transit point through which a fifth of the world’s energy supplies flow.
Add up the aircraft carriers, the Gatling-packing patrol craft, the Orions, the Sea Stallions and the minesweepers, and Greenert still isn’t finished with the surge. Then come the new, advanced torpedoes that can compensate for the “turpidity [and] particulate” drags of the Gulf waters. And the drone subs — or, as Greenert put it, “some underwater unmanned neutralization autonomous units” to help hunt mines. And every Navy ship that sails through the strait will come equipped with new, modular “infrared and electro-optical” visibility systems that clarify the foggy Gulf even at night. Extra spare parts and contractor crews will sustain the surge.
And if all that wasn’t enough, Greenert disclosed that he and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will soon ask themselves if the Navy needs to rotate more aircraft carriers to the Gulf. That decision, so important that it’s Panetta’s to make, will come “in the next few months.”
“I looked in every domain, undersea, surface and air,” Greenert said, “to make sure that we’re doing our best for the guys that are over there.”
Even with the prospect of an Israeli bombing campaign lingering overhead, the Navy has already proven it can get Iran to back off its bellicose rhetoric. Tehran hasn’t attacked the U.S. carriers, and it hasn’t mined the strait. Yet.
Greenert suggested that Iran’s naval forces are too sensible to actually challenge the vastly superior American force nearby. The regular Iranian navy is “professional, courteous [and] good mariners,” he said. Even the radical Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps isn’t “ramping up” in the Gulf and keeping its activities “normal.”
Perhaps true. And once the Navy’s surge forces all get into the Persian Gulf, the Iranian sea forces might not have any choice, if they want to continue existing. But if Iran’s pattern of miscalculation continues, then the larger Navy force nearby might be a provocation — and will have to end a fight quickly if it breaks out.