The Life and Tragic End of the Iranian Frigate ‘Damavand’

Caspian Sea frigate broke up on rocks

The Life and Tragic End of the Iranian Frigate ‘Damavand’ The Life and Tragic End of the Iranian Frigate ‘Damavand’

WIB sea January 31, 2018

The frigate Damavand was the Iranian navy’s most important warship on the Caspian Sea — a symbol of a modest but growing armed presence... The Life and Tragic End of the Iranian Frigate ‘Damavand’

The frigate Damavand was the Iranian navy’s most important warship on the Caspian Sea — a symbol of a modest but growing armed presence on the world’s largest enclosed body of water, and a force for Iranian flag-waving in a region full of oil and natural gas reverses. But on Jan. 10 as she approached her home port of Bandar Anzali, waves and high winds forced her into a rocky jetty protecting the harbor.

Two sailors died in the accident. In the weeks after, the Iranian military stripped Damavand of equipment as she broke apart on the rocks. By Jan. 28, the frigate had sank.

Damavand was the second of three built and seven total planned Moudge-class frigates, which trace their design to the preceding Alvand class, built for the Shah by the United Kingdom as the Vosper in the 1960s.

The 310-foot-long, 1,500-ton Damavand launched onto the Caspian in 2013 from Bandar Anzali. To underscore Damavand‘s symbolic importance, then-Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attended the launching ceremony with the Iranian defense minister and the armed forces chief of staff.

Iranian state media described the ship as carrying four Qader anti-ship cruise missiles, each with a range of more than 200 kilometers, along with a 76-millimeter Fajr-27 gun, and several smaller cannons, an anti-aircraft gun, two anti-air missiles and torpedoes.

One of the most important pieces of tech was an onboard phased array radar — allowing the warship to see and track dozens of targets. One purpose for the vessel was training, as the Iranian navy referred to Damavand as a training ship.

But the resources and money spent developing Damavand for the Caspian Sea, given Iran’s strategic priorities in the Persian Gulf, was not so surprising.

Iran claims some 20 percent of the Caspian, which is rich in oil, natural gas and fisheries and subject to disputed claims between Iran and Azerbaijan — a recipient of Russian military hardware. Azerbaijan has bought Israeli anti-ship missiles, and Kazakhstan is starting to build a navy of its own, although it is small — three domestically-produced Kazakhstan-class missile boats and 20 patrol boats as of 2016.

It would be tough to call this build-up an arms race, given the size.

However, the region’s armed forces take the possibility of a conflict seriously enough to use it as a basis for military exercises, such as a 2012 exercise between Russia and Kazakhstan simulating an Iranian attack across the Arabogazköl Aylagy, a shallow depression in Turkmenistan adjacent to the Caspian Sea and the Kazakh border.

A 2012 Russian military map simulating an Iranian attack across the Arabogazköl Aylagy. Photo via Russian Internet

The Caspian is also a highway for Russian power, and Russia’s Caspian Flotilla is the single largest armed force on the sea. As the world watched in surprise in 2015, Russian corvettes launched long-range Kalibr cruise missiles from the sea to targets in Syria — some 1,000 miles away — in an example of how the Caspian serves as “strategic depth,” a military term for the space a combatant can exploit beyond its core territories.

Iran has hedged its modest military build-up with naval diplomacy, sending ships on port visits across the sea. Iran has also participated in joint military exercises in the Caspian with Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Damavand was a key part of this strategy, as she — festooned in a banner displaying the image of the Ayatollah — docked in the Kazakh port of Aktau in April 2017 along with the corvette Paykan. “The Iranian Navy’s flotilla … is slated to convey Iran’s message of peace and friendship to Kazakhstan,” Iran’s Fars News Agency reported at the time.

The loss of Damavand is a blow to these ambitions. Her two sister ships, Jamaran and Sahand, are Persian Gulf warships.

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