Submarines: Iranian Sub Lost While Practicing To Sink U.S. Carrier

Strategy Page
May 11, 2014

In the Persian Gulf there are rumors that one of Iran’s Ghadir mini-subs sank while practicing tactics for attacking an American Nimitz class carrier. It was believed that a recently built two-thirds replica of an American Nimitz class aircraft carrier would be towed out so the Ghadir could get some experience in how to approach such a large ship and launch torpedoes at it. The rumored loss of a Ghadir was accompanied by talk of some new stealth technology on the Ghadir. That is probably just rumor as the small size of the Ghadir already confers a substantial amount of stealthiness. This purported stealth technology is supposed to explain why Iranian salvage ships are not out looking for the sunken Ghadir as that activity would tell foreigners where, approximately, the sub went down.

Even with the real, or imagined, sinking, the Ghadir is another example of Iranian resourcefulness in the face of embargoes. Since 1996, when Russia agreed to stop selling them submarines, Iran has been working on their own designs. After ten years of trial and error they produced the 120 ton Ghadir (Qadir) class vessels in 2005. Iran claims to have a 21 of these small diesel electric subs and no less than four have been shown together in photographs. The Iranians are not releasing specification sheets to anyone, but Ghadirs look very similar to the Italian Cosmos SX-506B submarines that Columbia has operated since the 1980s. The 100-ton SX-506Bs are only large enough to carry 18 people (including up to a dozen commandos) and two torpedoes or two mines in the two 533mm torpedo tubes. News video shows what looks like to be two torpedo tubes on the Ghadirs and Iran claims that the Ghadirs carry torpedoes.

It should also be remembered that Cosmos exported a number of larger mini-subs to Pakistan in the 1990s. Dubbed the SX-756 they may have also been the design basis for the Ghadir. It should also be acknowledged that the North Korean Sang-O class submarine closely approximates the Ghadir type. In 2007, North Korea gave Iran, outright, four of its Yugo-type midget submarines. These Yugos were well worn 90-ton 21 meter (65 foot) craft but Iran accepted them all the same. Taking them apart taught the Iranians much about how to design and build mini-subs.

Then there is the claimed practice target for the Ghadirs. This huge vessel is not a rumor. For nearly a year Iran has been building a two-thirds replica of an American Nimitz class aircraft carrier. It’s basically a barge with the carrier deck and “island” up top. Included is the number (68) of the USS Nimitz painted on the Iranian ship.

U.S. Naval intelligence officers, who have watched the Iranian vessel take shape via satellite photos, have called it the Target Barge, in the belief that it might be used by Iranian aircraft or boats to practice attacking a full size Nimitz. Iran has done this before, building mockups of ships and aircraft. If American intel knows anything about what Iranian officials have said to each other about the barge they aren’t talking (a typical procedure to keep from the enemy details of how you are eavesdropping).

Some Iranian media have reported that the Target Barge is being built as a prop for a movie about Iran Air flight 655, which was shot down by an anti-aircraft missiles fired by an American cruiser in 1988. If that’s the case then it’s a very expensive prop. The USS Nimitz was not anywhere near Iran when Flight 655 was shot down. Nimitz was then (July) in Washington State preparing to head out on a deployment. Nimitz did not arrive off Iran until October 1988. So maybe the movie involves some kind of payback. That goes over well with Iranian audiences.

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