Iran Says It Wants Nuclear Submarines to Power Up Fleet After Confrontation with U.S. Navy

The head of Iran's navy has called for the development of nuclear-powered submarines to better protect the country after a close encounter off its coast with the U.S. Navy.

Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said Thursday his forces were considering building a nuclear-powered submarine and that the Iranian Defense Ministry already had the capability to manufacture an underwater vessel larger than the cruise missile-armed, semi-heavy Fateh-class submarine unveiled last year. While Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has forbidden by Islamic law the production of nuclear bombs, Khanzadi said nuclear propulsion—a technology Iran had yet to demonstrate—would be necessary to defend and deter against potential adversaries like the United States.

"When there is no deterrence and no readiness for defense, peace will not be stabilized and that is why the armed forces of nations exist, to keep this peace stable," Khanzadi said, according to the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency.

"We need this equipment to stabilize this peace," Khanzadi added, arguing it would be "for the benefit of our country and the international community."

"There are many threats to our country," he said. "Today, if we see the presence of American aircraft carriers in the region, we should know that they are nuclear. It allows them to stay at sea for six months, otherwise, they would have to return to the port for refueling after a short time and then continue to sail."

The Iranian navy commander said building nuclear-powered submarines would have a second benefit: striking enemy bases from greater distances while remaining undetected.

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends the inauguration ceremony of a new cruise missile-armed, semi-heavy Fateh-class submarine at Bandar Abbas naval base, February 17, 2019. Despite a decade-old arms embargo, the Islamic Republic has managed to continue to develop its surface and underwater fleet. HOSSEIN ESMAILI/ARMED FORCES OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN

The U.S. maintains tens of thousands of troops at bases in friendly Arab states along the Persian Gulf and regularly sends warships through the critical trade channel known as the Strait of Hormuz, located just miles off of Iran's coast. The day before to Khanzadi's remarks, a convoy of U.S. vessels encountered nearly a dozen fast-attack craft of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard in what the U.S. Fifth Fleet called an "unsafe and unprofessional interaction" in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. Navy said the armed Iranian speedboats "repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings" of the USS Lewis B. Puller expeditionary mobile base vessel as close as 50 yards and within 10 years of the Island-class USCGS patrol boat Maui. The Navy said the Iranian fleet ignored transmissions and warnings for about an hour before maneuvering away.

The Fifth Fleet argued that Iran's "dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision" and violated the 1972 Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) as well as international law and maritime customs.

Maritime tensions have for decades been a main feature of the long-running feud between Washington and Tehran that has escalated since President Donald Trump walked away from a multilateral nuclear deal two years ago. The 2015 arrangement lifted international sanctions on Iran in exchange for the Islamic Republic agreeing to curb nuclear production but the current administration felt it did not go far enough in halting Tehran's support for foreign militias and missile production.

The U.S. has enforced unilateral sanctions that have attempted to completely sever Iran's traded ties, including oil exports that serve as an economic lifeline. With fellow nuclear agreement signatories France, Germany and the United Kingdom failing to normalize trade ties for fear of U.S. sanctions, Iran has begun to scale down its own commitments to the nuclear deal, enriching more uranium that officials maintain will never be weaponized.

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Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy vessels conduct what the U.S. Navy described as "unsafe and unprofessional actions" near U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet ships operating in the Persian Gulf, April 15. U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet

While the supreme leader said Iran has banned weapons of mass destruction, he has encouraged the country's conventional forces to continue to modernize. The cleric's office congratulated the Iranian armed forces Friday to commemorate Army and Ground Force Day, as did President Hassan Rouhani, who highlighted the military's role in battling the spread of the new coronavirus that has engulfed the nation.

The State Department has offered to provide assistance to the Islamic Republic as it battled the infectious illness but has so far resisted international calls to relieve sanctions as the two continued to feud across the Middle East.

Defense Minister Amir Hatami on Friday specifically warned the U.S. to keep away from the Persian Gulf after their latest encounter.

"What creates insecurity in the Persian Gulf region is in fact the illegal and aggressive presence of Americans, who have come near our borders from the other side of the world," the Iranian brigadier general said, according to the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.

"We are at our own home, while they (Americans) have come from the other side of the world and are creating problems for the regional countries with threats and sanctions," he added.

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A graphic provided by Statista ranks the world's top 20 most powerful militaries based on 55 data points calculated by Global Firepower's 2019 Power Index. Statista

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