INDIGO CLOAK Strikepods Engage Qoms
Strikepods defending the destroyer USS Higgins (DDG-76) engaged twenty four Iranian Qom-class microsubmarines in the hours leading up to strikes against Syrian chemical weapons installations.
Strikepods have been prosecuting Operation INDIGO CLOAK in the Persian Gulf since October, 2017, engaging in mine countermeasures (MCM), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and anti-submarine warfare (ASW). In particular, Strikepods have been tasked with monitoring Iranian micronaval activities, including the Qom-class microsubmarine.
- On several occasions, Qoms have been detected operating near U.S. surface combatants and, in a handful of cases, submarines.
- An increased deployment of Qoms has coincided with a reduced frequency of IRGCN harassment of U.S. naval vessels operating in the Gulf, suggesting that a change in tactics may be underway, possibly to emphasize unmanned systems, including undersea vehicles.
In the early evening of April 11, 2018, Strikepods deployed to Operation INDIGO CLOAK in the northern Persian Gulf reported a surge in Qom detections, suggesting a large sortie of Iranian micronaval assets was underway, possibly from Ghadir-class midget submarines, small IRGCN vessels, or civilian vessels operated covertly by IRGCN personnel. The sudden sortie suggested it was a response to President Trump's rhetoric regarding Syria's April 7 chemical weapons attack, and Tehran's suspicion that a retaliatory strike could take the form of TLAM's fired from U.S. vessels operating in the Gulf.
Early on April 12, two 10-ship Strikepods (EDEN and MAKO) were vectored onto the USS Higgins (DDG-76) area of operations, presumably in response to a warning order received in advance of an imminent strike.
- Upon arrival, Strikepods were ordered to join ████████████ in patrolling an area of approximately ████.
- At 0340 local time, Strikepod MAKO detected an Iranian Ghadir-class submarine at a range of approximately ████, which was soon confirmed by ████████████. Acoustic analysis determined the target to be departing the area at 5kts.
- On April 13, at 1541 local time, a second Ghadir was detected at ████████, also moving away from Higgins at 5kts.
At 0230 local time on April 14, Strikepods EDEN and MAKO detected approximately 24 small targets moving at 20kts toward Higgins from the north and east. Targets were quickly identified as Iranian Qom-class microsubmarines.
- EDEN and MAKO were ordered to create a defensive arc approximately █████ abeam of Higgins.
- At 0235 Qoms scattered and began pinging with active sonar.
- At 0238 the order was given to engage.
For the next two hours, as Higgins prepared for and executed its strike mission, Strikepods EDEN and MAKO engaged in a battle with twenty-four hostile Iranian Qom-class submarines in the waters below.
- The Qoms, it appears, were unarmed and non-weaponized, and displayed only rudimentary, even crude, combat capabilities. The superior autonomy and maneuverability of the Atom-class enabled the Strikepods to destroy eight vessels and disable ten others through proximity detonations. However, due to their large numbers, six Qoms were able to penetrate the defensive perimeter to harass, and, in four cases, ram the Higgins (to no effect).
- The mission of the Qom attack appears to have been saturation of the Higgins defenses in an effort to prevent it from carrying out its mission of launching cruise missiles against Syrian targets. Although the Qom may be capable of armed missions, Tehran may have wished to avoid an escalation with the United States, and been content with a largely benign demonstration of the IRGCN's growing asymmetric advantage in the undersea domain.
- Whether the Iranians had advance notice of the Higgins role in the Syrian strikes is a matter of speculation. A more likely scenario is that the Iranians assumed a strike was imminent, and that it might originate in the Persian Gulf, and so seized upon an opportunity to disrupt and distract a U.S. warship firing shots in anger.