Iran’s New Submarine Debuts at Massive War Games
The large-scale Zulfiqar-99 military exercise held in Iran this week looked a bit like America in the 1980s. U.S.-supplied F-4E Phantom-II jets, Chinook and Sea King helicopters and the massive Sea Stallion were all showcased. These date back to the 1970s when Iran was an American ally. And there was legacy equipment from Britain, Germany and others. But there was one particular piece of kit on display that points to Iran’s growing self-sufficiency. It is the Fateh, the Iranian Navy’s first indigenous, full-sized submarine.
It’s the first time that the Fateh has been reported to be part of an exercise. This points toward it slowly becoming an integrated part of the front-line navy. Although the submarine is relatively basic, it legitimately places Iran in the list of sub building nations. Iran’s submarine building program has come of age.
By U.S. Navy standards Fateh, which means Conqueror, is actually a small submarine, about 157 feet long and 14 feet across. Its displacement when submerged, which is a common way of comparing the size of submarines, is about 600 tons. That’s a far cry from the Virginia Class at 7,800 tons.
That said, the Fateh is not a midget submarine. It is a regular patrol submarine and can engage surface targets, presenting a threat to both warships and civilian vessels, particularly in the strategic choke point of the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran has built a large number of smaller IS-120 ‘Ghadir’ midget submarines which play a major part in the Iranian Navy line up. But the Fateh will have a longer range and pack a much heavier punch.
It is armed with heavyweight torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. Six weapons are estimated to be carried, compared to just two aboard the Ghadirs. Some Ghadirs, which are based on a North Korean design (the MS-29 Yono class), were also taking part in the exercise.
The torpedoes are the Iranian built YT-534-UW1 type, which is specialized for use against ships. It is an improved version of the North Korean PT-97W model. The Jask-2 anti-ship missile is highly unusual. It is a small weapon but its launch container has its own motor like a torpedo. This allows it to swim out of the tube instead of having to be pushed out by compressed air or water. This is simpler than the systems used to shoot full-sized submarine-launched anti-ship missiles like Sub-Harpoon.
Fateh’s small size comes at the price of endurance and limited weapons load. Six weapons is nothing compared to the 40 or more aboard top-end nuclear powered fast attack boats. But being small can also be an advantage, especially in the confined waters of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz, where the larger nuclear submarines would find it harder to hide. Most of all, it is much cheaper to build.
Fateh may be a test bed for future, larger, Iranian boats. In April I reported that Iran said it is building ‘giant submarines.’ There have been suggestions that these might, at some point in the future, be nuclear powered. But that seems far off. And because Iran lacks modern battery and AIP (air-independent power) the next submarines are likely to still be modest in size. But Fateh appears to prove that Iran can now build workable, full-size submarines.