May 14, 2019 · Qom INDIGO CLOAK Fujairah Iran

Qoms Detected Off Fujairah

Iran-Flag-Map-300px

Per Operation Indigo Cloak, we continue to monitor IRGC naval activities in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman. Upon receiving intelligence of explosions in the port of Fujairah, Strikepods EDEN and MAKO were vectored for ISR operations.

Approximately twelve Iranian Qom-class microsubmarines were detected in and around the port, however, we have uncovered no direct evidence linking Iran to the apparent attack on four oil tankers anchored offshore.

  • Qoms are capable of carrying a small (1 kg or less) payload of C4, which would be insufficient to cause blast damage of the magnitude sustained by the MT Andrea Victory, seen here and here.

  • A coordinated, simultaneous detonation of several Qoms is possible. While there is no intelligence indicating that Qoms have been fitted with advanced technologies enabling a swarming capability, it is possible that several Qoms could be programmed to converge and detonate at a predetermined place and time.

  • Some reports suggest that limpet-style mines may have been used in the attacks. There is no intelligence suggesting that the Qom, like the Atom-class, has been fitted with a magnet assembly in order to attach to metallic surfaces; however, a Qom could be maneuvered into contact with the hull prior to detonation, thereby producing a similar outcome to that of a limpet mine.

It is possible that Iran has developed an unmanned undersea vehicle capable of carrying a larger explosive payload; however, Strikepods EDEN and MAKO have not detected any such vehicles in the area, or within the greater Indigo Cloak area.

  • Reports surfaced in 2012 suggesting that Iran had developed a larger UUV, one theoretically capable of carrying a larger payload of explosives.

  • Iran could also improvise an unmanned undersea vehicle using commercial off-the-shelf components, or by acquiring a vehicle outright via dummy corporations operating within the global defense marketplace. Even an unsophisticated UUV with little capability for communications or navigation could be deployed in a torpedo-style attack from a nearby surface vehicle, a swimmer deliver vehicle or midget submarine.

Update: 6/14/2019

At this time, there is evidence that limpet mines were the weapons employed in the attcks on the M/T Kokuka Courageous and M/T Front Altair.

CENTCOM has released imagery slides showing what appears to be an unexploded limpet mine on the hull of the M/T Kokuka Courageous, as well damage from a previous explosion. CENTCOM has also released video of an IRGCN Gashti-class patrol boat alongside the M/T Kokuka Courageous, with naval operatives removing an unexploded limpet mine from the hull.

What is unclear is why, if they are indeed responsible, the Iranians would return to the ship after the explosion. One reason could be to sanitize the scene in order to ensure plausible deniability. Or perhaps, if Tehran was in fact not responsible for the attacks, the IRGCN presence was to gather evidence for their own investigation.

It is also unclear how, or when, the mines were attached. Further, there are now reports that sailors aboard MT Kokuka Courageous observed flying objects prior to the attack.

The United States claims Iran is responsible for the attacks, and is now considering an Operation Earnest Will-style convoy response in order to deter further attacks against shipping. In 1988, a mine strike on the USS Samuel B. Roberts resulted in a limited response against the IRGCN that specifically avoided land strikes. We are unlikely to see such restraint this time around.

Update: 6/13/2019

Two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman this morning. Speculation is rampant as to the nature of weapon used in the attack, but indications at this time suggest either an ASCM, floating mine, or perhaps a USV similar to the Houthi attack on the Saudi frigate Al Madinah.

There is also speculation that these were torpedo attacks. While we are of course wary of any speculation in the absence of evidence, it is interesting to consider the possibility that these, and the Fujairah attacks, were undertaken using unmanned undersea vehicles. This was the conclusion of a Norwegian insurer after Fujairah, and would be consistent with Iranian proxy warfare and desire for ambiguity and plausible deniability in sowing regional unrest. A torpedo attack, while effective, would point directly at Tehran, and would invite an immediate escalation and swift response by the United States and regional allies, something that Tehran seeks to avoid.

Update: 5/19/2019

According to Reuters, an unnamed Norwegian insurance company has concluded that the IRGC is responsible for the attacks, and that they were most likely carried out using "undersea drones" deployed from a nearby surface vessel. If true, this is an important development, with far-reaching implications.

  • The report, as quoted by Reuters, suggests that such a method of attack implicates the IRGC, as they would likely employ "asymmetric measures with plausible deniability." Indeed, we have argued previously that plausible deniability, or non-attribution, is one of four principles underpinning the rise of unmanned undersea conflict.

  • It is unclear what evidence the Norwegian analysts possess which suggests undersea drones carried out the attack. It is also unclear as to the level of sophistication of the drones, whether they have been developed indigenously, or have been improvised using existing Iranian undersea technologies or COTS systems.

  • It is also unclear what evidence, if any, exists to suggest that the kill vehicles were deployed from a surface vessel, as opposed to an undersea platform.

We will continue to monitor the situation and provide reports as events dictate.

qom_side

Qom-CLASS
Length: 1.14 meters
Beam: 13 cm
Propulsion: High-density battery
Speed: 15-20 kts (submerged)
Endurance: Unknown
Armament: Possible C4
[ Concept Art: Dhimas Afihandarin ]

[End]
Strikepod Command

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