Iran has sufficient quantities of cruise missiles to destroy much or all of the Fifth Fleet which is within range of Iran’s mobile missile launchers strategically located along its mountainous terrain overlooking the Persian Gulf. The Bush administration is deliberately downplaying the vulnerability of the Fifth Fleet to Iran’s advanced missile technology which has been purchased from Russia and China since the late 1990’s. The most sophisticated of Iran’s cruise missiles are the ‘Sunburn’ and ‘Yakhonts’. These are missiles against which U.S. military experts conclude modern warships have no effective defense. By deliberately provoking an Iranian retaliation to U.S. military actions, the neoconservatives will knowingly sacrifice much or all of the Fifth Fleet. This will culminate in a new Pearl Harbor that will create the right political environment for total war against Iran, and expanded military actions in the Persian Gulf region.
The Fifth Fleet’s Vulnerability to Iran’s Anti-Ship Missile Arsenal
The U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet is headquartered in the Gulf State of Bahrain which is responsible for patrolling the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, Suez Canal and parts of the Indian Ocean. The Fifth Fleet currently comprises a carrier group and two helicopter carrier ships. Its size peaked at five aircraft carrier groups and six helicopter carriers in 2003 during the invasion of Iraq. Presently, it is led by the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier commissioned in 1961, and on November 2, began participating in a Naval exercise in the Persian Gulf .
The Fifth Fleet’s base in Bahrain, is only 150 miles away from the Iranian coast, and would itself be in range of Iran’s new generation of anti-ship cruise missiles. Also, any Naval ships in the confined terrain of the Persian Gulf would have difficulty in maneuvering and would be within range of Iran’s rugged coastline which extends all along the Persian Gulf to the Arabian sea.
Iran began purchasing advanced military technology from Russia soon after the latter pulled out in 2000 from the Gore-Chernomyrdin Protocol, which limited Russia’s sales of military equipment to Iran. . Russia subsequently began selling Iran military technology that could be used in any military conflict with the U.S. This included air defense systems and anti-ship cruise missiles in which Russia specialized to offset the U.S. large naval superiority.
The SS-N-22 or ‘Sunburn” has a speed of Mach 2.5 or 1500 miles an hour, uses stealth technology and has a range up to 130 miles. It contains a conventional warhead of 750 lbs that can destroy most ships. Of even greater concern is Russia’s SSN-X-26 or ‘Yakhonts’ cruise missile which has a range of 185 miles which makes all US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf vulnerable to attack. More importantly the Yakhonts has been specifically developed for use against Carrier groups, and has been sold by Russia on the international arms trade.
Both the Yakhonts and the Sunburn missiles are designed to defeat the Aegis radar defense currently used on U.S. Navy ships by using stealth technology and low ground hugging flying maneuvers. In their final approaches these missiles take evasive maneuvers to defeat anti-ship missile defenses. So great is the threat posed by the Sunburn, Yakhonts and other advanced anti-ship missiles being developed by Russia and sold to China, Iran and other countries, that the Pentagon’s weapons testing office in 2007 moved to halt production on further aircraft carriers until an effective defense was developed. Iran has purchased sufficient quantities of both the Sunbeam and Yakhonts to destroy much or all of the Fifth Fleet anywhere in the Persian Gulf from its mountainous coastal terrain.
Millennium Challenge Wargames
The “Millennium Challenge” was one of the largest wargames ever conducted and wargames involved 13,500 troops spread out at over 17 locations. The wargames involved heavy usage of computer simulations, extended over a three week period and cost $250 million. Millennium Challenge involved asymmetrical warfare between the U.S military forces, led by General William Kernan, and an unnamed state in the Persian Gulf. According to General Kernan, the wargames “would test a series of new war-fighting concepts recently developed by the Pentagon.” Using a range of asymmetrical attack strategies using disguised civilian boats for launching attacks, planes in Kamikaze attacks, and Silkworm cruise missiles, much of the Fifth Fleet was sunk. The games revealed how asymmetrical strategies could exploit the Fifth Fleet’s vulnerability against anti-ship cruise missiles in the confined waters of the Persian Gulf.
In a controversial decision, the Pentagon decided to simply ‘refloat’ the Fifth Fleet to continue the exercise which led to the eventual defeat of the Persian Gulf state. The sinking of the Fifth Fleet was ignored and the wargames declared a success for the “new war-fighting concepts” adopted by Gen. Kernan. This led to Lt General Paul Van Riper, the commander of the mythical Gulf State, calling the official results “empty sloganeering”. In a later television interview, General Riper declared “when the concepts that the command was testing failed to live up to their expectations, the command at that point began to script the exercise in order to prove these concepts. This was my critical complaint.”
Most significant was General Riper’s claims of the effectiveness of the older Cruise missile technology, the Silkworm missile which were used to sink an aircraft carrier and two helicopter-carriers loaded with marines in the total of 16 ships sunk. When asked to confirm Riper’s claims, General Kernar replied: “Well, I don’t know. To be honest with you. I haven’t had an opportunity to assess what happened. But that’s a possibility… The specifics of the cruise-missile piece… I really can’t answer that question. We’ll have to get back to you”
The Millennium Challenge wargames clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of the US Fifth Fleet to Silkworm cruise missile attacks. This replicated the experience of the British during the 1980 Falklands war where two ships were sunk by three Exocet missiles. Both the Exocet and Silkworm cruise missiles were an older generation of anti-ship missile technology that were far surpassed by the Sunburn and Yakhonts missiles. If the Millennium Challenge was a guide to an asymmetrical war with Iran, much of the U.S Fifth Fleet would be destroyed. It is not surprising Millennium Challenge was eventually scripted so that this embarrassing fact was hidden. To date, there has been little public awareness of the vulnerability of the US Fifth Fleet while stationed in the Persian Gulf. It appears that the Bush administration had scripted an outcome to the wargames that would promote its neoconservative agenda for the Middle East.
The Neo-Conservative Strategy to Attack Iran
Neoconservatives share a political philosophy that US dominance of the international system as the world’s sole superpower needs to be extended indefinitely into the 21st century. In early 2006 neoconservatives within the Bush administration began vigorously promoting a new war against Iran due to the alleged threat posed by its nuclear development program. Iran has consistently maintained that its nuclear development is lawful and in compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Since 2004, The Bush administration has been citing intelligence data that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons and must under no circumstances be allowed to do this.
Much of Iran’s nuclear development has occurred in underground facilities built at a depth of 70 feet with hardened concrete overhead that protect them from any known conventional attack. This led to the Bush administration arguing in early 2006 that tactical nuclear weapons would need to be used to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. This culminated in a fierce debate between leading neo-conservatives such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, with the Joint Chiefs of Staff which remained adamantly opposed. Seymour Hersh in May 2006, reported the opposition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.'