An analysis of how a U.S. attack on Iran might unfold by William H. McMichael, a Navy Times bureau chief in Hampton Roads, VA (which has the largest concentration of military bases and facilities of any metropolitan area in the world), appeared on Mar. 5 on the web site DefenseNews.com, part of Army Times Publishing Co. -- Defense News calls itself "the authoritative, independent, professional news source for the world's defense decision-makers." -- McMichael's piece concludes ambivalently on whether or not the U.S. is actually contemplating an attack on Iran. -- On the one hand, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said that "we are not planning for a war with Iran," Adm. William Fallon has said that opening a new military front in the Middle East "strikes me as not where we want to go, and not what we want to be engaged in," and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said there is "zero" chance of a U.S. war with Iran. -- On the other hand, "Iran appears to remain in the U.S. crosshairs," according to McMichael, who cites a 2006 book co-authored by Anthony Cordesman and Khalid R. Al-Rodhan, Iran's Weapons of Mass Destruction, which quotes National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley saying in March 2006: "We face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran . . . The doctrine of pre-emption remains sound. . . . We do not rule out the use of force before an attack occurs." -- According to McMichael, in any attack "[t]he great unknown would be [Iran's anti-ship] missiles' source and number." -- Also, "Iran's submarines are . . . highly capable and could sit undetected on the ocean bottom, lying in wait for an approaching ship." -- "While the subs might not last long against an intensive U.S. anti-submarine hunt, they could initially cause serious problems." -- "Equally uncertain is the extent and capability of Iran's air defenses," McMichael wrote. -- And, finally, "there's the lowest-tech retaliatory option: increased support for insurgents fighting U.S. troops in Iraq and terrorist attacks by suicide bombers abroad." -- As for the plan of attack itself, McMichael had this to say in his Mar. 5 article: "The initial strike [on Iran] could come from stealth Air Force fighters and bombers and cruise missiles launched from B-52Hs, Navy submarines, and surface warships. The attacks could center on command-and-control centers, anti-aircraft sites, and other targets that pose a threat to follow-on strikes by nonstealth bombers and fighters. -- The Air Force bombers could fly nonstop from their home bases in the United States, while Air Force fighters would have to be launched from bases within the region. The Air Force already has fighters based in Iraq, Afghanistan, and along the western Arabian Gulf. -- The Air Force and Navy bombs, like the cruise missiles, would all be precision-guided in an effort to minimize unnecessary deaths and collateral damage at dual-use facilities or those located amid civilian populations. -- F-22As, once they drop their bombs, would focus on shooting down any Iranian fighters that tried to challenge U.S. aircraft. -- Navy cruisers and destroyers from the Eisenhower and Stennis strike groups would be prepositioned in the Arabian Gulf, their flanks protected by anti-submarine helicopters and attack submarines. The latter would be submerged, simultaneously preparing to fire cruise missiles. -- The two carriers would not be anywhere near them. With much uncertainty about the locations of Iranian anti-ship missile ships, high-speed boats, or mobile shore batteries — and the range U.S. Navy jets can produce with the aid of Air Force fuel tankers operating on the periphery of the battlespace — the carriers probably would be situated outside the Arabian Gulf, likely in the Gulf of Oman." -- On Tuesday, UPI noted that "The U.S. Navy carrier USS John C. Stennis has left the Persian Gulf area," and on Apr. 7 Stars and Stripes reported that "The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis has finished a port call and is back in the North Arabian Sea." ...
Eyes on Iran
U.S. NAVY WOULD BEAR BRUNT OF IRAN CONFLICT, EXPERTS SAY
By William H. McMichael
March 5, 2007
The attack would probably come by air. Waves of U.S. cruise missiles and warplanes loaded with smart weapons would swoop into Iran from the sea and land bases to destroy key nuclear facilities.
Out in the Arabian Gulf, the U.S. Navy would wipe out Iran's Navy in a matter of days. Iran's air defenses could possibly take out a few higher-flying U.S. Air Force and Navy tactical jets before being located and destroyed.
In short, the first round would go decisively to the United States.
But it wouldn't be without serious repercussions. And the U.S. Navy would likely take the brunt of those. It's the unconventional threat that would vex U.S. sailors.
An American public that has turned solidly against the war in neighboring Iraq -- 63 percent of those polled oppose sending more troops to Iraq and 56 percent feel the war in Iraq is "hopeless," according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll conducted Feb. 12-15 -- may find it hard to believe that the possibility of attacking much larger, more formidable Iran is even being broached.
But the Bush administration claims Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons and has vowed to prevent that from happening. More recently, senior military and intelligence officials say elements within Iran's government are smuggling to Iraqi dissidents components for ever-more-powerful roadside bombs and are using them to kill U.S. troops.
The administration backed up its tough talk by deploying the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group a week earlier than planned in January and, in a surprise move, also "surging" the Ronald Reagan to the west Pacific and dispatching the Stennis to the Middle East. Stennis joined the already-deployed Dwight D. Eisenhower group in the 5th Fleet area Feb. 19, doubling the Navy's combat power in the region.
Five squadrons of Air Force fighters are already in the area, engaged in missions over Afghanistan and Iraq; that's in addition to B-1B Lancer bombers and a host of tankers and airlifters. However, the Air Force has not forward deployed to the region its stealth F-117 and F-22A fighters or the B-2 bomber.
Before striking Iran, the United States would need permission from Arab and Central Asian nations to stage attacks from their bases and use their airspace. That could present a problem. During the early phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, one Arab country allowed U.S. aerial tankers to use its airfields but prohibited bomb-laden jets.
Iran has reacted with angry words -- mostly by hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- and recent missile tests near the strategically vital Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Arabian Gulf. Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Feb. 8 that Iran would strike U.S. interests worldwide if attacked, and a leading Iranian cleric said the following day that the United States was within Iran's "firing range."
The Bush administration and military leaders deny that a war plan is in the works. The Stennis deployment was simply, in the words of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, "to underscore to our friends, as well as to our potential adversaries in the region, that the United States has considered the Persian Gulf and that whole area -- the stability in that area -- to be a vital national interest."
As with many other contingencies, the Defense Department has plans for an attack on Iran -- the Navy reportedly updated its plans in September at the direction of Adm. Mike Mullen, chief of naval operations.
But there appears to be little enthusiasm for such a move within the Navy. And none of the analysts and experts interviewed thinks an attack will take place.
"People go to the most dramatic case," said Anthony Cordesman, a military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, who has written about Iran's conventional military capabilities as well as its weapons of mass destruction. "But seapower, and military power in general, is often about containment, intimidation, dealing with limited cases. So I would look at the spectrum, not what is the most dramatic thing we could do."
The less dramatic spectrum of possible operations, he said, includes beefing up airstrike support for NATO troops in Afghanistan, keeping an eye on Somalia, and demonstrating U.S. strength to gulf allies.
No one knows precisely what it would take to light the fuse, or where in Iran the United States would choose to strike if the standoff came to blows. Would it be a factory where deadly roadside bombs are made? Iran's publicly known, dozen-odd -- and perhaps dozens more -- key nuclear facilities? Ballistic missile launching sites, to preclude retaliatory strikes against U.S. or Israeli interests in the region?
The U.S. Army wouldn't be a factor in an attack that would come from the air and sea. Army troops, tanks and heavy artillery, preoccupied in Iraq, would stay put.
While Air Force officials have not publicly said how an attack on Iran could begin, there have been Air Force presentations on how an attack would play out on fictional nations that match Iran's landscape and military capabilities.
The initial strike could come from stealth Air Force fighters and bombers and cruise missiles launched from B-52Hs, Navy submarines, and surface warships. The attacks could center on command-and-control centers, anti-aircraft sites, and other targets that pose a threat to follow-on strikes by nonstealth bombers and fighters.
The Air Force bombers could fly nonstop from their home bases in the United States, while Air Force fighters would have to be launched from bases within the region. The Air Force already has fighters based in Iraq, Afghanistan, and along the western Arabian Gulf.
The Air Force and Navy bombs, like the cruise missiles, would all be precision-guided in an effort to minimize unnecessary deaths and collateral damage at dual-use facilities or those located amid civilian populations.
F-22As, once they drop their bombs, would focus on shooting down any Iranian fighters that tried to challenge U.S. aircraft.
Navy cruisers and destroyers from the Eisenhower and Stennis strike groups would be prepositioned in the Arabian Gulf, their flanks protected by anti-submarine helicopters and attack submarines. The latter would be submerged, simultaneously preparing to fire cruise missiles.
The two carriers would not be anywhere near them. With much uncertainty about the locations of Iranian anti-ship missile ships, high-speed boats, or mobile shore batteries -- and the range U.S. Navy jets can produce with the aid of Air Force fuel tankers operating on the periphery of the battlespace -- the carriers probably would be situated outside the Arabian Gulf, likely in the Gulf of Oman.
"I would get the carriers out, and I would put lots of missile ships in there to defend tankers," said naval analyst Norman Polmar, noting the disruptive economic impact Iran would create by sinking oil-carrying ships -- even though it could slow its own economy. "I think that's one of the ways they go after the United States, to sink tankers."
SIMILAR MISSION TO 2003
Aircrews could find themselves flying missions similar to those flown during the March 2003 attack on Iraqi forces, when many jets flew precision bomb runs and then peeled off to perform close-air support for ground troops.
Without any ground troops, save for possible special operations teams to laser-designate certain targets, the U.S. objectives could be achieved with air and naval power alone, analysts say. So fliers could find themselves coming down low to take out coastal anti-ship batteries threatening the surface warships.
The Aegis cruisers and destroyers, likely well off Iran's long coastline, would defend themselves from those missiles with a combination of Rolling Airframe Missiles and Phalanx rapid-fire 20mm barrages in addition to launching chaff to throw off Iran's radar-guided anti-ship missiles.
The great unknown would be the missiles' source and number. Would hard-to-spot Iranian fast small boats, some with anti-ship missiles and others with crew members hefting shoulder-fired rockets, employ a swarming technique in an effort to overwhelm a warship's defenses? That's a scenario Navy planners have spent years figuring out how to defend.
Iran's submarines are modern Russian diesel electrics, famously difficult to track. Each carries wake-homing and wire-guided torpedoes, Cordesman said. The submarines are highly capable and could sit undetected on the ocean bottom, lying in wait for an approaching ship. The question is the proficiency of the crews. Iran also has built and operates an unknown number of midget submarines.
The Pentagon recently announced that Iran may have developed a hyperspeed, underwater "missile-torpedo," similar to the Russian rocket-propelled Shkval. While the subs might not last long against an intensive U.S. anti-submarine hunt, they could initially cause serious problems.
Equally uncertain is the extent and capability of Iran's air defenses. Iran has an estimated 300 combat aircraft, but many "are either not operational or cannot be sustained in air combat," Cordesman wrote in his 2005 book, *Iran's Developing Military Capabilities*.
It could have upward of 40 MiG-29 fighters, and several dozen other jets of lesser quality. It also still owns a mixed bag of as many as 115 Iraqi aircraft flown there during the 1991 Gulf War, and close to 50 F-14 Tomcats bought from the United States before 1979.
The Iranians also have U.S.-supplied Phoenix air-to-air missiles. Polmar questions whether any of the aging missiles are still usable or effective but "they still would make it 'noisy' for manned aircraft," he said.
Cordesman said the Iranian Air Force operates an array of ground-based anti-aircraft missiles. But because Iran lacks a coordinated radar network, command-and-control assets, and resistance to sophisticated jamming and electronic countermeasures, the Iranian missiles would be most effective against medium- to high- altitude aircraft "with limited penetrating and jamming capability." Navy jets would try to take out air defense systems with HARM anti-radiation missiles.
Iran controls 1,700 anti-aircraft guns but has only one system, the radar-guided Soviet-era ZSU-23/4, that might be effective against modern aircraft, according to Cordesman's analysis. Iran also has "large numbers" of man-portable surface-to-air missiles, according to his book.
Iran has hundreds of ballistic missiles, some reportedly stored in hardened sites, all of which would allow it to strike U.S. forces based in Baghdad, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain. Cordesman also says Iran now has the Shahab-3 missile, which has the range to reach Israel and which some believe could carry a chemical, biological or nuclear warhead. U.S. officials do not believe Iran now possesses any nuclear weapons.
Iran has but a few surface warships, dated destroyers and frigates that wouldn't stand a chance against the Navy, experts agree. But it has nearly 200 patrol boats, hovercraft, and fast small craft that could cause problems for U.S. warships in the gulf. The smaller, more lightly armed vessels can also lay mines and could be used to carry out suicide missions.
But military analyst John Pike noted that the Navy now has a canister round for its 5-inch guns, a weapon that could prove deadly should a speedboat get close to a ship.
"You have to think about the options for retaliation," said Peter Brookes, a military analyst with the Heritage Foundation and a former Navy EP-3 pilot who flew in the Arabian Gulf in the 1980s.
Foremost among these for the naval forces, he and others said, are mines.
"Mines are silent killers," Brookes said. "You can plunk those things down pretty easily. And they can hurt you."
Iran can lay mines using its several minesweepers and a wide variety of other platforms, including its Kilo submarines and dozens of small, innocuous merchant ships. Cordesman reported that U.S. experts estimate Iran has at least 2,000 mines, which Iran could use to cut off the flow of shipping through the Strait of Hormuz.
A newspaper editor close to Khamenei wrote in late January that any U.S. military action would invite a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz -- something a mine-laying tactic could achieve -- as well as missile attacks on U.S. troops and Israel.
Then there's the lowest-tech retaliatory option: increased support for insurgents fighting U.S. troops in Iraq and terrorist attacks by suicide bombers abroad.
"They have a pretty strong terrorist network through Hezbollah -- around the world, not just in Lebanon," Brookes said. "There have even been arrests of Hezbollah operatives and supporters in the United States."
How to preclude this unwanted scenario? The United States has said it wants to engage Iran in some manner. And Ahmadinejad's table-pounding aside, Iran could be open to negotiations on the nuclear issue. Khamenei is the true power in Iran. And Iranian opposition leaders have openly criticized their president over his hard-line rhetoric, a stance bolstered by the U.S. military rumblings.
"If you look at what's happening in Iran, it's obvious that the U.S. sort of hard line has made people think, made them concerned about Ahmadinejad's rhetoric, his tendency to be reckless," Cordesman said. "There is an internal debate in Iran that was not around before the U.S. became potentially more threatening."
Will the U.S. launch a strike? In addition to the experts' doubts, other senior officials have chimed in.
"The president has made clear, the secretary of state has made clear, I've made clear . . . we are not planning for a war with Iran," Gates said at a Feb. 2 news conference.
More recently, Adm. William Fallon, newly confirmed as the head of U.S. Central Command, said that opening a new military front in the Middle East "strikes me as not where we want to go, and not what we want to be engaged in." And Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during a February trip to the Pacific region that there is "zero" chance of the United States going to war with Iran.
But Iran appears to remain in the U.S. crosshairs. As Cordesman points out in a 2006 book co-written with Khalid R. Al-Rodhan, *Iran's Weapons of Mass Destruction*, national security adviser Stephen Hadley said during a March 2006 presentation on U.S. national security strategy, "We face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran . . . The doctrine of pre-emption remains sound. . . . We do not rule out the use of force before an attack occurs."
--Christopher P. Cavas and Bruce Rolfsen contributed to this report.
STENNIS LEAVES GULF AREA TO AID AFGHAN OPS
United Press International
April 10, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Navy carrier USS John C. Stennis has left the Persian Gulf area, the Navy Times reported this weekend.
The Stennis is the second of two U.S. aircraft carriers and their supporting battle groups that have been operating in the Arabian Sea off the Gulf. The second carrier, the USS Eisenhower, is due to be relieved later this month by the USS Nimitz, which left its home port of San Diego with its supporting battle group a week ago.
The Navy Times said the Stennis was sailing to support U.S. and NATO ground operations in Afghanistan. The Stennis leaves the Gulf area at a time when tensions between the United States and Iran appear to have eased slightly following Tehran's decision to release 15 British Navy sailors and Royal Marines it had seized, claiming they were in Iranian waters. However, tensions between the United States and Iran remain high over Iran's continued refusal to abandon its nuclear development program.
The Navy Times noted that the USS Stennis "left its homeport of Bremerton, Wash., on Jan. 16, for a regularly scheduled deployment and began operating with coalition forces in the 5th Fleet area of responsibility Feb. 19."
USS STENNIS BACK AT WORK
Stars and Stripes
April 7, 2007
The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis has finished a port call and is back in the North Arabian Sea, flying close-air support and reconnaissance missions for troops in Afghanistan, U.S. Navy officials said this week.
The carrier air wing aboard Stennis is assigned to “prevent and counter Taliban attacks. Carrier aircraft provide close-air power support and deliver ordnance on enemy positions designated by ground forces,” a news release states.
The Stennis and its strike group also are tasked with what the Navy calls “maritime security operations,” designed to “deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.”
The Stennis sailed from its home port of Bremerton, Wash., on Jan. 16 for a scheduled deployment, arriving in the Arabian Sea region on Feb. 19. The Navy now once again has two carrier strike groups in the region.
Carrier Air Wing 9 includes Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 154, VFA 146, VFA 147, Marine Strike Fighter Squadron 323, Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 138, Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 112, Sea Control Squadron 31, Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 8 and Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30.
The Stennis strike group includes the carrier, Destroyer Squadron 21, USS Antietam, USS O’Kane, USS Preble and the fast combat-support ship USNS Bridge.
Some 6,500 sailors and Marines are part of the strike group.