Friday, April 09, 2010

I'll Give You Something to Lose Sleep Over

As reported in the Financial Times last Sunday, the Iranians may have acquired a new state-of-the-art speed boat, much to the concern of the Obama Administration and those US Navy personnel stationed in the Persian Gulf. The Bradstone Challenger, developed by the British company ICE Marine and partially financed by the US-based defense contractor Navatek, is a pretty kick*** ride; it can comfortably reach 71 mph in open waters. In 2005, it circumvented the island of Britain in some 27 hours and 10 minutes, averaging 61.5 mph. Since then, the Iranians have been trying to get their hands on it. The UK Department of Trade and Industry blocked an initial attempt by the Iranians to purchase the vessel. Then in January 2009, through mishap and circumstance, the vessel ended up in South Africa, headed for shipment to Iran on an Iranian cargo ship. The US Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security requested that South Africa block the transfer, but, as the story goes, the South Africans missed the memo, and the Bladerunner 51 was loaded on to the Iranian ship, named ironically, The Diplomat. US Special Forces were on hand ready to stop the cargo ship, but the order was never given.

Why such a big deal, you ask? The Iranians like fast boats just like any other sea-faring man's man, right? Well, sure, but when you're also developing a super-fast torpedo capable of sinking submarines and warships, the pieces start to come together and folks start to get worried. Iranian speed boats equipped with Russian designed Shkval (Squall) torpedoes could possibly be deployed against the US 5th Fleet thus reeking havoc in the Persian Gulf. Or they could be deployed to sink oil tankers passing through the Straight of Hormuz, a critical transit point for approximately 40% of the world's oil. Even without the torpedoes, these fast-moving boats skippered by the Iranian navy pose a serious threat that must be addressed. Indeed, if these type scenarios became reality, it would be a very big deal.

However, before we go getting all up and arms about this, it's worth knowing that this isn't the first time this issue has come up. Actually, the idea has been around for quite a while, at least since 1987. And the Iranians are no strangers to provoking US warships with small speed boats, as shown in this 2008 video aired on ABC News. So the history is there. And Craig Hooper, a San Francisco-based naval strategist familiar with the saga of the Bradstone Challenger, asserts that the US Navy isn't too worried about the threat, saying, "Every time small, fast boats run into helicopters, the helicopters win." And yes folks, helicopters are deployable from ships within the 5th Fleet (see second comment after article). My question would then be, "Hey Craig, what if the Iranians got some of these and put them on the boats?" Just a thought.

So this is definitely something to keep your eye on. But I wouldn't lose much sleep over it; I will, however, be losing sleep over this.

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