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Iranian Missile Mishaps and Military Readiness

May 14, 2020

Episode Notes:

At least 19 Iranian sailors were killed this weekend and their ship destroyed in a live-fire missile exercise gone wrong.  The support ship IRIS Konarak was struck by a missile launched from the frigate IRIS Jamaran during an exercise near the Iranian port of Jask on Sunday.  The Konarak was towing targets for the missile exercise and was still in close proximity to the targets when the missile was launched; the missile’s homing system acquired the support ship, rather than the intended target.  In addition to the dead, at least 15 sailors were injured.  Although it was not reported how many sailors were onboard at the time of the mishap, Janes reports that the normal crew of a ship of that type is 25-30 sailors, suggesting that nearly the entire crew were killed or wounded in the mishap.

To discuss this issue, we are joined by Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies. Eisenstadt is the David Kahn and Douglas Kahn Fellow and director of the Institute's Military and Security Studies Program. A specialist in Persian Gulf and Arab-Israeli security affairs, he has published widely on irregular and conventional warfare, and nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East.


[ 01:48 ] What do we know about the exercise in which the mishap occurred? Was it a routine readiness exercise or were they testing a new capability? How common are such exercises, and have we seen previous mishaps associated with them?

[ 03:31 ] In January, Iranian air defense forces inadvertently shot down a Ukrainian air liner.  Do these incidents point to a pattern of readiness issues in the Iranian military?

[ 05:55 ] When the US Navy suffered a spate of mishaps in the summer of 2017, many pointed to reduced funding for maintenance, manning, and training, coupled with increased operational demands. Is there reason to suspect something similar may be a factor in Iranian military readiness?

[ 10:36 ] Iran has two maritime military forces, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN), which operates larger vessels like those  involved in this exercise, as well as Iran’s submarine force, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), which operates mostly small boats, such as those that were videoed harassing US Navy ships a few weeks ago. Is there a bureaucratic or political rivalry between those two forces, and is this incident likely to affect the balance of power between them? If so, how might that affect Iranian naval activity in the Gulf?

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