Asymmetry At Sea

Kaplan looks at how Iran could fight - and even win - an asymmetric war on the seas:

We can’t be sure how a naval war will play out. We defeated Iran’s conventional navy in the Gulf in 1987-88, during the reflagging and escort of Kuwait tankers. The Iranians have, as the losing side, worked hard to find fixes to the problems that conflict revealed. Despite all our preparations, the Iranians have been faster and more aggressive in expanding their sea-based asymmetric warfare capability than we have been in countering it.

The U.S. Navy has been working on the Littoral Combat Ship, which would provide added protection against swarm attacks. But it could be years before the required dozens of these ships are ready. The U.S. Navy is still, by and large, a conventional blue-water force designed to patrol vast oceans, win classic sea battles, and pound an enemy with overwhelming firepower from offshore positions. A close-in, dirty war in narrow coastal waters is not something we can’t do, but it is something we should try to avoid. It does not play to our strengths.

Some of the promoters of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities have sold the strike as a high-tech, airborne surgical attack. But a look at the naval environment indicates that like the Iraq invasion, what starts surgically could end very messily indeed.