Wednesday, October 17, 2012

If Iran Mines the Strait of Hormuz

Anthony Berini emails:
In a sea drill the US Navy only found half of the mines planted in a Strait of Hormuz simulation drill.

I don't know if you buy the 'we only found the important ones' argument or not but I think this exercise shows how difficult/how long it would take to reopen the strait if the Iranians mined the passage.

If Iran ever does mine the strait it could take weeks to clear it. In the mean time the price of oil would explode to the upside. Perhaps this simulation will make our leaders and policy makers beat the war drum a bit softer?
This fall in line with what I reported in the EPJ Daily Alert in November 2010:

This afternoon I attended a meeting where the speaker was Capitan Jeffrey Kline. Kline is the Program Director, Maritime Defense and Security Research Programs, Naval Postgraduate School. He is an Adjunct Professor at the Naval War College where he teaches, "Joint Analysis for the Warfare Commander". 
While his speech was about piracy on the high seas, I took the opportunity after his speech to ask him about the Strait of Hormuz. The strait is a very strategically important waterway between the Gulf of Oman in the southeast and the Persian Gulf. A lot of oil passes through the straight, 20% of all world oil trade. You can't spend more than 5 minutes with an oil trader after bringing up the possibility of war with Iran before talk turns to the closure of the Strait. 
There are many, many opinions as to the whether the strait can be closed. I even heard Boone Pickens (Who knows more about oil than any other man I have met) say at a Michael Milken Conference that he couldn't imagine that the strait could be closed, given that at its narrowest point, the traffic lanes are 6 miles wide. 
I thought I would ask Kline, who might have a pretty damn good idea if the Strat could be closed by Iran. His answer was it could. When I asked him how long it would take, he said 3 or 4 days for Iran to position ships and lay mines. He did say that the blockade could eventually be broken, but it would depend upon international co-operation and that it would take "some time". He said that Iran has missiles onshore aimed at the strait that would have to be taken out, and that Iran had other sophisticated equipment in the area including drones that could listen in on ship communications. He said ship mine sweeping can also get "very tricky".


  1. "Perhaps this simulation will make our leaders and policy makers beat the war drum a bit softer?"

    It seems to me that the simulation results would likely make those drums take even more abuse than they already do. This may be a pessimistic view, albeit one that Bob probably shares, but I believe the policies of the US government in regards to Iran are designed specifically to provoke a war with that country. Public knowledge that US government ships would do poorly in finding and disarming Iranian government mines would increase the notion that the Iranian regime must be stopped immediately, before they engage in these types of things. Especially from hawkish conservatives. Everything our dear leaders do in these matter are to incite fear into the American zombie public, simply to justify themselves and their actions overseas.

  2. Iranians tried to mine the straight during the Iran-Iraq war in 1987, but the US put a stop to it very quickly. There is no reason to set around and watch them mine the straight for 4 days and then try to remove the mines. It would be much easier to stop them deploying the mines.

    Of course, the politicians and general may want a war, so they may sit back and allow the Iranians to deploy mines. That would give them an excuse for full scale war.

  3. Despite the American tendency towards blind faith in its armed forces, there is no military way to prevent Iran from closing the Straight of Hormuz. The problem is not so much in the Iranian capability, which is formidable, but in the fact that large vulnerable commercial ships carrying expensive cargo that is a fire, explosion, or ecological disaster just waiting to happen. Once Iran decides to close the straight, its just a matter of insurances being revoked, private enterprises being cautious and captains refusing to set sail.

    Even if we took out all the threats, at what point could we know enough to give the all clear? When would people believe you? Its impossible to prove a negative, even if your the US Navy. The fact that Iran has not yet played this card is a testememt to its rational investement in its own self interest and survival.

  4. Every gov't over estimates its own capabilities before war commences. Only one Japanese Admiral (Yammamoto) correctly predicted what war with the US meant. The Poles and the French both thought they could hold the line against the Germans. The Russians and the Americans both thought Afghanistan would be a pushover for modern military forces.
    Not only that, but war is often almost as bad for the winners as the losers. In WWII, the Soviets lost 20 million people, the British lost their empire.
    Only insane people initiate a war.