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That Sinking Feeling

“It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious.” President George Washington, 15 November 1781

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.” Theodore Roosevelt

“No matter what happens, the U.S. Navy is not going to be caught napping.” Frank Knox

“Iran took & concluded proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter.” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

 In this week’s More than Meets the Eye, I will walk a thin line. After working in and out of the Intelligence Community for the past 20 years of my life, I have become acclimated to a very specific reality: intelligence is an almost unwinnable profession. When a global security attack takes place around the world people immediately start asking, “Where was the Intelligence Community on this? Why didn’t they see this coming and alert us?” This criticism, however, does not take into account that if the Intelligence Community (IC) forecasts a particular warning and nothing happens, the IC is accused of being “Chicken Little,” saying the sky is falling.

That being said, I am about to make a forecast. I am about to propose a scenario that few are talking about. So, why am I doing that? In risk management, a common way to approach a potential risk is to weigh the likelihood of a risk with the potential severity of that risk. In other words, this is the practice of analyzing situations based on a high risk, but a low personal cost, or a low risk with a high, even debilitating, personal cost. This is the way insurance companies make a fortune. The actual numbers of catastrophic pay-outs that these companies make are generally small compared to the number of clients they actually cover.

I am proposing a scenario that has little chance of success, but because of the magnitude of the pay-off, may be too tempting to ignore. There are indicators that Iran is weighing these variables right now. The temptation for the pay-off they see could very well be too tempting to pass up.

What I will propose is a scenario that is rather low in probability, but the cost and consequences would be astronomic. I must propose this scenario because it is not outside the realm of plausibility and its consequences would be catastrophic.

I am making this forecast this week amid countless other events occurring in Iran today. Pay close attention to the internal struggle currently going on in Iran. It will be interesting to see if these popular demonstrations end any differently from the demonstrations in 2009, 2017 and 2019. Clearly, there is a lot of unrest fomenting in Iran. The current demonstrations might actually accelerate the possibilities that I propose in this issue. Pray that there will be a peaceful resolution in Iran.

One thing is for sure. There is more than meets the eye.

Review.

I have been doing a lot of reading about the current situation in Iran today. I am experienced in looking at second and third order effects of decisions, as well as asking peripheral questions that could lead us to conclusions that at first glance would seem absurd. A good example of this was 9/11.  No one saw this coming. We certainly never imagined anyone flying an airplane into a skyscraper. An event registered on the magnitude of 9/11 could be in the cards.

What I am proposing is that Iran may be preparing to carry out a multi-pronged attack against an American aircraft carrier. There is evidence that this is in the planning stages even now, and further evidence that it has been for a while.

One of the things that Middle Eastern peoples do better than Americans is “wait.” They are in far less a hurry than we are. It is not uncommon that they will live with the pain and shame of the killing of their favorite warrior for a bigger pay-off in the future. They will bide their time until that time is right…for them.

The strikes on the US military bases in Iraq were just a diversion to get the Americans to begin a silly dialogue about how the Iranians missed on purpose to keep from escalating the situation into a war. I wish it were so. A more likely conclusion is that the Iranians knew that the Americans were in a state of high alert and that they needed to do something to show the world that they were not taking General Soleimani’s death lying down. However, they also knew that the likelihood of killing a significant number of American soldiers was slim.

I’ve been to these bases. It must be remembered that the US has occupied these sites for almost 15 years. They have been hardening them with sophisticated bunkers systems for a decade and a half. Even a direct hit on one would do little more than leave a serious ringing in the ears of their occupants. I am quite sure that the Iranians knew their effect would be minimal. Perhaps this explains why they did not attack with their most expensive ballistic missiles.

So why a US Aircraft carrier?

Aircraft carriers are symbols of American military might. The aircraft carrier remains a nation’s “symbol of strength” on the high seas and is a sought-after component of several military powers such as China, Egypt, and Turkey. The United States Navy remains the clear leader in the field of aircraft carriers with its powerful nuclear-fueled fleet as well as its conventional-powered inventory. This allows the US to field an impressive military presence anywhere in the world. The aircraft carrier has played a significant role in America’s national defense for over 80 years, extending its military reach beyond what was previously thought possible.

Iran knows these facts well. No one has one ever come close to hitting a US aircraft carrier with any sort of weapon. The Iranian leadership knows that it would enter a field all its own if they were to be able to accomplish this. The thing that no one has even come close to doing is sinking an American symbol of might, an aircraft carrier. This distinguishing mark of victory would come close to the fervor that the Iranians would feel if they were to acquire a nuclear weapon.

It must never be forgotten that Iran is not Arab; it is not a part of the mainstream Sunni theological enclave of Islam. Iran is not only not Arabic, it is also not Sunni; it is a Shi’ite sect of Islam. Most all Sunni Muslims would consider Shi’a Islam a cultic offshoot of Islam. Iran is on a mission to be respected within the Muslim world, a respect that would be solidified by the sinking of an American aircraft carrier.

What would lead me to this conclusion?

Satellite photos from Planet Labs, obtained exclusively by Defense One, show that Iran has recently completed repairs on a mock aircraft carrier that it could destroy as part of an elaborate military exercise later in the spring. Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, claims that the barge could feature in an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy’s’ war exercise called, “Great Prophet 9” planned for March 2020.

The Iranians built this mock carrier to serve as a giant full-scale target for combined forces exercises in 2015. The mock-up is designed after the USS Nimitz, including the Command Island and 14 mock F/A-18 Super Hornets.  The mock carrier was badly damaged in the exercise, but starting in October of 2019, it was pulled out of moth-balls and repairs began. Ostensibly, its repairs will be completed by the end of January 2020.

Looking closer at the timeline, we can see that first, this plan was initiated before the killing of General Soleimani. It was likely a part of his future planning.  It also becomes rather obvious to even the casual observer that an investment of this nature is designed to serve a significant purpose.

Iran is most likely looking to send some sort of signal with the reconstruction of the carrier. This is a message the U.S. Navy has already heard and responded to. In recent months, Clark notes, “U.S. carriers have been operating for less time in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz…We’ve seen them spend more time outside the Gulf in the Arabian Sea. I think that’s one response we’ve seen to increased capability of the Iranians to attack large ships.”

How is this scenario different from 2015? Iranian motivation is at an all-time high. In losing General Soleimani, they have lost one of their important national assets. They have also been shamed by the United States, a shame that will not be pacified easily.

Lastly, the Iranians have learned a lot since 2015. Technologies are much more sophisticated than they were even five years ago. Drone technology has come a long, long way. It can be expected that the Iranians will include drone attacks into any attack scenario on the aircraft carrier.

Analysts predict that such an attack will be carried out in a highly coordinated fashion combining the power of hundreds of high speed attack boats, missile launchers, drones, and cruise missiles. The technology and information the Iranians had on drones and cruise missiles was very new to the Iranians in 2015 when this plan was first devised.

The most important takeaway, Clark states, is that the U.S. military needs to continue to prepare against more sophisticated attacks involving coordination among drones, possibly small boats, and cruise missiles.

The million-dollar question?

There are several nations who would like to have the capability to sink a US aircraft carrier. So far no one, including the Russians and Chinese have come up with a workable solution to taking an aircraft carrier off the battlefield. This makes an attempt even more tempting to the Iranians. Who knows, they just might get lucky.

I have studied many sources describing what it would take to sink a carrier, and I conclude that it is no easy task. Take a look at this article if you are interested in what kind of resources you would need to sink a carrier. It is not impossible, but it is extremely difficult.

Why.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s last words on the Soleimani killing were, “Our final answer to his assassination will be to kick all US forces out of the region.” This is a threat that is far from being fulfilled. Again, I point to the Iranian’s ability to out-wait us. Back in the early 1980’s I was attending the Cavalry Officer’s Advanced Course in Ft. Knox, KY. Also attending this course were officers from other nations. In my course there were three officers from Egypt and three officers from Israel. Throughout the course of casual conversations I got to know them pretty well.

One evening I had a great idea! I would invite them all over for dinner at the same time. This turned out to be rather eventful for all of us. It started rather calmly, until the subject of Operation Badr came up. Operation Badr was when the Egyptian Army conducted a near flawless crossing of the Suez canal and the seizing of the Bar-Lev Line of Israeli fortifications on October 6, 1973. Launched in conjunction with a Syrian assault on the Golan Heights, this attack marked the start of the Yom Kippur War.

I remember vividly that during the conversation one of the Egyptian Majors commented that Egypt would one day get the Sinai Peninsula back from Israel. He said, “We are not in a hurry. It may be next year, it might be in 10 years or even 100 years. We are not in a hurry. But we will get it back.”

My point is, history unfolds over centuries and millennia. We would all do well to remember that as events unfold. We need not lull ourselves into a slumber because we think that the Iranians lobbed a few missiles into Iraq and that their anger has been assuaged.

Action.

Read, read, read. That is perhaps one of my primary reasons for writing “More than Meets the Eye.” I want to encourage us to remember. That comes by being healthily informed of the past and the present. Winston Churchill once said, “The only thing we ever learned from history is that nobody ever learns anything from history.” Let that not be us. George Santayana (1905) once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Again, let that not be us.

Let me encourage you to become broad readers. Read from many subjects. Set a goal. Start with a book a month. Start by setting your sites on certain publications. Decide to read. Turn off your television in the evenings and become a reader. Something my commander told me as a young second lieutenant in the Cavalry,  that changed my life was when he said, “Leaders are readers.” It will change your life as well. It will also make a difference in the the lives of those you care most about.

The follow-up.

Iran’s only female Olympic medalist announces her defection from Iran in a scathing message… https://www.theblaze.com/news/irans-only-female-olympic-medalist-announces-her-defection-from-iran-in-scathing-message?utm_source=theblaze-dailyAM&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily-Newsletter__AM%202020-01-13&utm_term=TheBlaze%20Daily%20AM%20-%20last%20270%20days

“Clerics get lost!”: Iran protests rage on for a third day… https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/lost-iran-protests-rage-day-200113142114027.html

The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at:  david@morethanmeets.co

Resources.

https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/navy-ships/a30459886/iran-fake-uss-nimitz/

https://www.defenseone.com/technology/2020/01/iran-getting-ready-destroy-its-fake-aircraft-carrier-again/162305/?oref=gbb-newsletter

https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/iran-might-attack-its-very-own-fake-us-navy-aircraft-carrier-again-113126

https://www.businessinsider.com/iran-fixes-fake-aircraft-carrier-so-it-can-bombs-it-2020-1

https://foreignpolicy.com/2010/12/01/why-cant-arabs-and-iranians-just-get-along-2/

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/31521/navy-confirms-boat-swarm-seen-alongside-carrier-group-in-this-satellite-image-was-iranian

https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/19/middleeast/iran-united-states-hnk-intl/index.html

https://www.cnn.com/2015/02/26/world/iran-mock-carrier-destroyed/index.html

https://defence-blog.com/news/u-s-navy-aircraft-carrier-harassed-by-20-iranian-small-craft.html

https://www.bellingcat.com/news/2015/05/04/irans-mock-up-aircraft-carrier-returns-to-bander-abbas/

https://www.france24.com/en/20190506-usa-deploys-aircraft-carrier-bombers-send-message-iran

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/08/14/aircraft-carrier-skipper-fled-iran-child-now-hes-deploying-amid-heightened-tensions.html

https://warontherocks.com/2019/09/under-the-radar-irans-cruise-missile-capabilities-advance/

https://www.learnreligions.com/difference-between-shia-and-sunni-muslims-2003755

https://time.com/34963/iran-aircraft-carrier/

https://www.nationalreview.com/the-morning-jolt/the-iranian-people-are-taking-a-stand/

https://thehill.com/opinion/international/453437-iran-is-becoming-a-drone-superpower

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/why-iran-has-a-speedboat-swarm-thats-punching-above-its-weight/

https://www.businessinsider.com/us-aircraft-carriers-are-hard-to-kill-heres-why-2019-1

https://www.globalfirepower.com/navy-aircraft-carriers.asp

https://www.npr.org/2020/01/08/794501068/what-we-know-irans-missile-strike-against-the-u-s-in-iraq

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Badr_(1973)

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