Iran’s Navy Will Embrace a Bold New Doctrine in 2019


This year one will witness Iran’s naval activities extending beyond the gulf region. This will be for the purpose to project power and to pursue ambitions on foreign soil as set by Iran’s military establishment. Iran’s navy generated more news in November and December of last year compared to the entire preceding year.

An Iranian flotilla is set to embark on the high seas in February with a mission to cross the Atlantic and to conduct war game exercises with Venezuela over a period of five months[1]. It is not yet official if Tehran will make good on its repeated promises to send ships to Cuba that rests in the vicinity of US coastal waters. The nearest the IRGC Navy has come to the US border was in November 2016 when its ships sailed to Durban in South Africa that is not in the Atlantic Ocean.

Now that the status of the Caspian Sea has been settled amongst its littoral states, Russia and Iran are set to hold tactical, relief, rescue and anti-piracy war games next week[2]. A Separ missile-carrying corvette will be the highlight of the drill in the Caspian Sea.

Meanwhile, Iran has just hosted a three-ship flotilla of the Pakistan Navy for four days at Bandar Abbas. [3]Besides encircling Africa in 2016, Tehran’s naval vessels have visited China, Sri Lanka, and India over the past two years.

On November 29, Iran’s navy confirmed acquiring two mini-submarines, one is new and the other one is overhauled[4]. Besides, Iran is launching the navy’s own airbase at Jask, a city located on the intersection of the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz.

The most significant news regarding Iran’s fleet expansion is the commissioning of the Sahand, the country’s second locally-built destroyer. It is the ‘the most advanced’ sixth destroyer, that is equipped with torpedo launchers, anti-aircraft and anti-ship guns, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles and electronic warfare capabilities. Jamaran, the first destroyer, was launched in 2010.

Mehr News Agency quoted Iran’s deputy navy commander Rear-Admiral Touraj Hassani Moqaddam as saying that two or three vessels including the Sahand alongside special helicopters will participate in the voyage to Venezuela. The ‘radar-evading’ 1,300-ton heavy and 96-meter long Sahand, can cruise at 25 knots, the Iranian state media reported.

Hectic engagements since the start of 2019 reiterate the gradual evolution of Iran’s naval doctrine whereby it has assumed a more proactive posture in the Arabian Sea and beyond. Rear Admiral Ashkboos Danehkar, the architect of Iran’s naval doctrine, had emphasized Iran’s capability to launch a ‘guerilla war’ by building layered defenses, and its capability to launch surprise attacks and inflict psychological victories while avoiding sustained and direct conflict[5]. The navy followed his direction by taking measures to obstruct rival movements by tactics such as, laying mines, using islands as bases to harass enemy ships, obstructing oil export routes, and deploying speedboats. Also, Admiral Ashkboos called for making the Gulf of Oman as Iran’s first defensive perimeter and a base for its submarines.

With Iran’s naval capabilities increasing and strengthening because of improved war-fighting ships, and submarines, as well as, a boost in its confidence after successes in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, the country’s military leadership is adopting a more outward posture.

Two decades after Admiral Ashkboos, Iran’s Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri has been seeking a major shift in the country’s conventional military doctrine and posturing. Soon after assuming office, he stated that the deterrent effect of naval bases abroad “could be ten times more efficient than nuclear power.[6]” After the official policy statement by the army chief, the ambition to establish naval bases in Syria and Yemen became more prominent. Earlier, Iran had tried warming relations with some Atlantic Ocean rim states, such as, Nigeria and Senegal. The plan to build military bases abroad seems fraught with challenges. While the prospects of setting up a military base in Yemen is out of question, Tehran’s ambition to have one in Syria hangs on the survival of Bashar al-Assad in any political settlement concerning the future of the country.
The Iranian flotilla’s voyage to the Gulf of Mexico aims to fulfil the navy’s objective to stay seaborne for longer, and to carry out longer sea-based missions, as well as, asserting its right to freedom of navigation. Since an Iranian mine’ inflicted significant damage to the USS Samuel B. Roberts near Qatar’s coast in 1988 and the US Navy sinking six Iranian war ships, the Persian navy has gradually revived its ability to ferry beyond the gulf without compromising its national security. As much as any voyage to the United States’ coastline might raise the morale of Iran’s sailors, importantly, it stirs nationalistic pride in the people at a time of renewed US sanctions, subsequently strengthening a decaying regime.
“We are building two naval zones and three naval bases on the Makran coasts,” Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the Iranian navy, told Iran’s media in Tehran. “This is in line with our policy of making a return to the sea.[7]” Not only is Tehran building military infrastructure on the Makran coast but it has also handed over its Chabahar port to India, a Washington ally.

The Iranian navy attaching greater significance to the Makran coast is indicative of Iran shaping a policy towards the Indian Ocean that is becoming a theatre of rivalry, among China, the US, Australia and India.

Despite its posturing, Iran’s navy is still technologically far ill-equipped than its rivals to fight a sustained naval war should one be thrust upon it. However, its rendezvous across the Atlantic can achieve so much for the regime at home in terms of popularity, legitimacy, and survival. This is where the regime’s eyes will rather really believe it has actually the audacity or strength to threaten the US homeland.

 Iran’s naval flotilla to embark on mission in Atlantic Ocean: official, Mehr News Agency, January 4, 2019,
Iran, Russia to hold joint military drill in Caspian Sea, PressTV, Jan 6, 2019, Khanzadi
Pakistan Navy flotilla visits Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, Daily Pakistan Global, January 8, 2019,
Two new submarines join Iran's naval fleet, PressTV, November 29, 2018,
Steven R. Ward, The Continuing Evolution of Iran's Military Doctrine, Middle East Journal, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Autumn, 2005), pp. 559-576
Rear Admiral Ashkboos Danehkar, "Operational Doctrine of the Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Saff, #235, December 21, 1999; and Danehkar, "Operational Doctrine of the Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Saff, #238, February 20, 2000
‘Ten times’ more effective than nukes: Iran weighs creation of naval bases in Syria, Yemen, RT, November 26, 2016,
Iran’s maritime build-up accelerates, Tehran Times, November 21, 2016,
Editorial Team