The incident in the Persian Gulf between Iran and the United States last week has tended to be analyzed in a political, rather than a military fashion. What was the intent of the Iranians? Were they trying to provoke an armed encounter? Was it reflective of divisions within Iran between the Iranian Navy and the Revolutionary Guards, whose boats acted provocatively? How would the U.S. administration react? Would it try to push this as a casus belli?
What has been left out is any idea that this might have been a military exercise. The idea of small speedboats causing any trouble for the multi-billion dollar ships of the United States Navy has seemed beyond reason.
This article by the New York Times points out that the USN should be deeply wary of the military implications of last week’s encounter. A 2002 U.S. Navy exercise had the Red Team (the official “opponents”) using tactics that included waves of small boats and salvos of cruise missiles to wipe out an American convoy. The Iranians surely have to be thinking the same thing, if a shooting war were to start. The Strait of Hormuz, the choke point into the Persian Gulf, is extremely narrow, with a number of small islands scattered throughout it. Iran is the coastline to the north. A combined assault against an American force consisting of large numbers of cruise missiles and small boats (some of them suicide boats of the same type that hit the USS Cole), combined with unexpected minefields, would–at very least–strain the defensive capability of the U.S. ships to their limit.