Could Revolutionary Guard speedboats sink an American warship? A suicidal zealot in an explosive-packed Boghammer could zig-zag his way through U.S. defenses, particularly if his boat was one of several in a "swarm." Drop the analytic resolution from the "macro" strategic political view to the "micro" tactical military aspects of the incident, and the Revolutionary Guards' naval action has all of the elements of a "close-in probe" designed to test U.S. Navy reactions. However, an American cruiser, destroyer and frigate deployed in a flotilla are a very dangerous target -- nothing remotely comparable to vulnerable British sailors in a rubber raft.
The deadly suicide boat attack on the destroyer USS Cole in October 2000, as it lay anchored in the port of Aden, Yemen, made "close in" defense of U.S. warships a priority. The U.S. Navy began arming its capital ships with .50 caliber heavy machineguns, assorted light machineguns and 25 millimeter automatic cannons (like those mounted on U.S. Army Bradley armored infantry vehicles). Crewmen also occasionally deploy shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles (another infantry weapon) as an additional defense against light, low-flying airplanes (a Cessna on a suicide mission) or drone aircraft carrying explosives
In June 2005, I spent three days on the cruiser USS Normandy, deployed near Iraq's Al Basrah offshore oil terminal. The Normandy carries long-range missiles, a modern naval cannon and electronics capable of identifying targets hundreds of miles away. However, Iranian dhows operating beyond the terminal's exclusion zone were the most immediate threat, and the huge capital ship bristled with light automatic weapons manned by sailors. After inspecting a 50 caliber mount, I jokingly called the Normandy the "world's biggest PT boat." World War II-era U.S. PT boats often fought Japanese barges and small craft up close, infantry-like combat waged in shallow seas.
Naval mines are the real threat to big ships operating in the Persian Gulf. A naval mine can break and sink a ship. But mines are material things, deadly lumps without personality or religion. Sinking an American destroyer with a mine lacks the brazen testosterone, theological resolve and sensational media impact of a jihadist-manned speedboat braving the hail of fire to slam into the arrogant infidel warship's disintegrating armor.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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