Iran deployed a pair of warships to the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in the country’s history this spring, sparking fears in US media about where the ships were going, what they were carrying and whether or not Washington had the authority under international law to try to stop them.
Iran’s Sahand destroyer and the Makran support vessel have traveled north from the central Atlantic Ocean and are making their way through the English Channel, USNI News and TankerTrackers.com have reported, citing satellite imagery and open-source intelligence.
USNI News believes the pair of warships may be on route to the Baltic Sea to take part in a Russian naval parade in St. Petersburg on 25 July.
Iranian and Russian military officials have not commented directly on the matter. However, Iranian media have reported that Navy Commander Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi and Iranian Ambassador to Russia Kazem Jalali would be taking part in the Russian Navy Day festivities. Last week, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu indicated that 54 vessels would take part in the parade, including unspecified ships from Iran, India and Pakistan, with the parade itself to involve over 4,000 service members.
TankerTrackers says it spotted the Makran steaming up the northwest coast of France, with the ship situated about 65 km west-by-southwest of Penmarch in Brittany at one point.
The two-ship Iranian flotilla caused a minor panic in US media when it first made its way into the Atlantic in May, with outlets reporting on the ships’ movements extensively and expressing fears that they may be carrying arms to Venezuela. Foreign Policy debated whether the US had the legal authority to try to stop the ships from reaching their destination, but concluded that Washington can’t “touch” them in any way – even if they sailed directly into American waters with neutral intentions.
Last week, Khanzadi indicated that Iran made the decision to deploy its flotilla to the Atlantic to send “a special message” about Tehran’s support for the oppressed peoples of the world, and partly to prove to the United States that Iran has such capabilities.
“Of course, part of that presence is because the Americans said Iranians could not be present in the Atlantic…The Americans have set up bases around us over the years, and today they are terrified when we are 5,000 km away. This fear is because the presence of Iran breaks the hegemony of the United States,” the commander suggested.
The Sahand is a Moudge-class destroyer with a 2,500 tonne displacement, is 95 metres long and has a crew of 140 officers and seamen. The ship is equipped with long-range radar, electronic warfare and decoy systems, naval guns, cannons and machine guns, and surface-to-air missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes, and one helicopter.
The Makran is a new kind of warship commissioned by Iran’s Navy this January, and is built out of a converted oil tanker to serve as a mobile sea base capable of long-range naval operations. The 111,000+ tonne ship is 230 meters long, and can carry tens of thousands of tonnes-worth of equipment ranging from speedboats and road-mobile vehicles to small submersibles, drones and helicopters. The ship’s armament includes Qadir and Abu-Mahdi naval cruise missiles, advanced radar and telecommunications systems, and a contingent of four small boats armed with Katyusha-style rocket-launchers. Khordad anti-aircraft missile systems like the one that shot down a stealthy US spy drone in June 2019 can be parked on the ship’s deck, as can almost any other system which Iran has in its large arsenal of homegrown military equipment.
Iran converted the Makran from a commercial oil carrier in a period of just six months, with the idea of using commercial vessels for military purposes considered by the Navy since the 1990s.