Little Subs for Commandos

July 10, 2007: Iran is not happy with the mini-submarines they have built, with North Korean help, and have ordered four North Korean minisubs, which are supposed to be delivered this month. These small boats are used to deliver commandos, or stealthy attacks on enemy (U.S.) warships.

Last year, Iran put two more of their own mini-submarines into service. Four have been built so far. This sub has a two man crew, and can carry three divers, or several naval mines, or a torpedo. The Iranians say they will use the mini-subs to lay mines or launch underwater commando attacks. While the North Koreans provided some technical assistance, the Iranian sub is a local design, smaller than most North Korean mini-subs, which is a reflection of the more turbulent seas found off the Korean coast. In the shallow waters of thePersian Gulf, the Iranian minisubs (which look like an enlarged torpedo, with a glassed over cockpit in the front), can be very difficult to detect. Their range is probably a few hundred kilometers, more than sufficient to reach any targets in the area.

North Korea has a fleet of over 60 mini-subs, and apparently Iran wants at least a few dozen. North Koreagot the idea for minisubs from Russia, which has had them for decades. The most recent Russian minisub design is the Piranya. This is a 200 ton, 93 foot long boat with a max surface speed (on diesel) of 14 kilometers an hour. Using batteries, max underwater speed is 12 kilometers an hour. Max range is about 1,800 kilometers, cruising on the surface at about 7 kilometers an hour. Under water, max range is 460 kilometers at the same speed. The Piranya has a crew of three and can carry six divers. There are two cargo containers built on the deck, that can be used to carry two mines, two torpedoes or diver equipment.

An Italian firm makes similar mini-subs, which have been sold to Pakistan. Since China does a lot of business with Pakistan and North Korea, some of that Italian technology has probably made its way to North Korea. There, North Korea has developed several mini-sub designs, most of them available to anyone with the cash to pay. The largest is the 350 ton Sang-O, which is actually a coastal sub modified for special operations (it can carry about 30 armed passengers.) The most popular model is the M100D, a 76 ton, 58 foot long boat that has a crew of four and can carry eight diver and their equipment. The most novel design is a submersible speedboat. This 40 foot boat looks like a speedboat, displaces ten tons and can carry up to eight people. It only submerges to a depth of about ten feet. Using a schnorkel apparatus (a pipe type device to bring in air and expel diesel engine fumes), the boat can move underwater. Nine years ago, a South Korean destroyed sank one of these. If these are the mini-subs Iran bought, they could be flown in. Otherwise, the North Korean boats will have to be brought in by sea, which could lead to a confrontation with American or NATO warships off the Iranian coast.