A submarine-escorted naval fleet set sailed from southern Iran for Mumbai and Colombo on Wednesday.
As if Asia’s waters weren’t crowded enough with subsurface vessels, Iran has deployed one of its heavy submarines to South Asian waters as part of a larger naval fleet, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency, which has close ties with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
On Wednesday afternoon, Fars quoted Admiral Siyavash Jarreh, the Lieutenant Commander of the Iranian Navy for Operations, as saying, “The (Iranian) Navy will dispatch the ultra-heavy Tareq-class submarine, ‘Younus’ as part of the Navy’s 28th flotilla of warships to the countries of East Asia.”
The report said that the 28th flotilla left a southern port in Iran hours after Jarreh made the announcement. Fars also reported that Admiral Jarreh had said Iran’s Alborz destroyer and Bandar Abbas helicopter-carrier warship would be accompanying the Younus submarine on the voyage.
Despite Jarreh’s claims that the 28th flotilla was headed to East Asia, the Fars report quoted him as saying, “The Navy’s 28th Flotilla will berth at Mumbai and Colombo ports during its voyage.” In other words, the 28th flotilla seems to be headed to South Asia — India and Sri Lanka in particular.
The purpose of the voyage is unclear, although Fars referred to it as a “crucially important extraterritorial mission of the Iranian Navy.”
Tasnim News Agency, which was established last year to report on the Arab Spring, also carried a report on Jarreh’s comments. It quoted Jarreh as saying that the flotilla’s mission is to make its “mighty and constant” presence felt in international waters. Jarreh apparently added that the flotilla would also “convey the message of peace and friendship” along the way.
The Iranian Navy seems to keep a flotilla constantly deployed, although most of them do not venture farther than the Gulf of Aden and Mediterranean Sea. Still, the trip itself is not unprecedented for Iran’s navy. Indeed, according to Indian news reports, the Bandar Abbas itself made a port call in India back in 2006. Iran’s regular naval forces, rather than the IRGC Navy, are in charge of these longer deployments, which have included port calls in China and Russia.
The more frequent deployments around the Gulf of Aden do not usually have a submarine escort, at least one that is usually announced. However, the inclusion of the Tareq-class submarine on this mission could very well just be due to the fact that it has little other purpose. Iran has three such Tareq-class submarines, which are really 877EKM Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines that Iran purchased from Russia in the late 1980s and 1990s. Although it reportedly paid about US$600 million for each of them, they are uniquely unsuited to Iran’s maritime environment. Specifically, the Persian Gulf’s shallow depth means the heavy submarines cannot operate in most of it.
The three heavy submarines have long been based in Iran’s Bandar Abbas port and are operated by Iran’s regular Navy. Some reports have suggested that Iran is building port facilities for them at its Chabahar Port, which is located in the deeper waters of the Gulf of Oman. Voyages east to the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean are thus some of the only occasions in which the Tareq-class submarines can be utilized.
The naval fleet’s voyage to South Asia comes as the P5+1 and Iran are holding another round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. This week also saw Iran claim to launch a new strategic drone.