Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Kuhestak Coastal Missile Battery

On 'Navy Day 2013', the IRIN commander - Admiral Sayyari - noted that the service was continuing to develop their infrastructure along the country's south-eastern coast, including the expansion of ports at Sirik, Jask, Kuhestak, Konarak, and Pasabandar. [1] Although the current IRIN construction is absent from currently available IMINT, one of these locations - Kuhestak - is already host to a legacy ASCM battery dating from height of the Tanker War.

In the mid/late-1980s, attacks on commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf began to heat up, first as Iraq sought to slow Iran's ground offensives, and then as Iran sought to retaliate in kind. For their part, Tehran found themselves relying on lightweight air and surface-launched weapons that limited their ability to project power. To remedy this, Tehran attempted to procure more potent weapons like the HY-2 anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM). The first examples were captured from Iraqi positions on the Faw peninsula in February 1986 during the Valfajr-8 offensive, which were then supplemented afterward by direct deliveries from China. [2]

To field these new systems, both the IRIN and the IRGCN began constructing a number of coastal garrisons, including a hardened battery near the town of of Kuhestak at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. By July 1987, Washigton noted the operational deployment of HY-2s at Kuhestak. [3] A year later, as US-Iranian confrontation continued to escalate, the underground-facilities at Kuhestak were near completion. To Washington, this battery posed a unique threat because - unlike the facilities at Abu Musa or elsewhere - the underground facilities at Kuhestak allowed Iranian forces to conceal the otherwise time-consuming launch-preparation from airborne sensors, increasing their chances at carrying out a surprise attack. To counter this threat, Washington ordered the deployment of the Aegis-cruiser, the USS Vincennes. [4]

Although the Vincennes ultimately played a key role in Iran's acceptance of the 1988 ceasefire - the downing of a civilian-airliner was instrumental in convincing Tehran that the regional and global balance of power had turned against it - it was never called to defend against the cruise-missile threat. Tehran's decision not to escalate the confrontation in this manner was due in large part to the red-line drawn by Washington, which deterred Tehran from ordering the use of HY-2s in the southern Gulf.

25 years later, the hardened facilities at Kuhestak remain, though it is unclear whether they are maintained, let alone hosting an active garrison. As Iran's naval forces have replaced their HY-2s with container-launched missiles in self-contained, mobile platforms, there is a decreasing need for these static bases with overhead cover and concealment. However, given that the HY-2 can still be seen on exercises, being fired from pre-established launch zones, it's not beyond the realm of possibility.

Located about 8 km south of the town of Kuhestak, the battery is dug into a small stretch of hills running along the coast. Split into three distinct sections, the battery includes two firing sections, a target-acquisition section, and a support section. Google Earth offers imagery of the base from 09/2012, 10/2012, 12/2012, and 01/2013.

The two firing sections are located side-by-side, and each feature facilities for two launchers, including concrete ramps leading from hardened shelters to firing pads, providing a place to fuel and prepare alert missiles. Each section has three-four additional hardened shelters set back from the firing-positions, which likely hold missile reloads.

On top of the adjacent hill is a cluster of hardened shelters that is likely associated with the battery's target acquisition section. This position would have offered the best vantage point for the section's target acquisition radar observed by USN forces in 1987. One probable location for the radar is a revetted pad similar to those used for radars in air-defense batteries.

Beyond these distinction sections, there are at least two more hardened shelters found elsewhere in the compound. In the shadow of several smaller hills are the batteries support facilities, including living quarters for the weapon crews. In addition, a handful (at least seven) of small concrete pads - typically associated with Zu-23-2 AAA - dot the compound.

The available evidence suggests a limited operational capability. The air-defense pads are empty, and overgrown foliage can be seen on the alert ramps. However, in 01/2013, one small wheeled vehicle can be seen in front of one of the firing-section's hardened shelters. This is the only evidence of activity across the range of imagery.

[1] Interview with Admiral Sayyari / 'Kuhestak'; newest naval base. Tasnim News. 12/02/13 http://www.fardanews.com/fa/news/306469/%DA%A9%D9%88%D9%87%D8%B3%D8%AA%DA%A9-%D8%AC%D8%AF%DB%8C%D8%AF%D8%AA%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%86-%D9%BE%D8%A7%DB%8C%DA%AF%D8%A7%D9%87-%D8%AF%D8%B1%DB%8C%D8%A7%DB%8C%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%AA%D8%B4
[2] Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop. The Iran-Iraq War in the Air. 2000. p.197-198, 250-253
[3] US warplanes flight, Iranian missile deployment coincidental, sources say. AP. 06/06/87 
[4] Iran said to fortify key strait. NYT. 06/01/88  http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/01/world/iran-said-to-fortify-key-strait.html


  1. "convincing Tehran that the regional and global balance of power had turned against it"

    The Iranian perception was that of an Americanization of the war. Additionally, and far greater than the shootdown of IranAir Flight 655 (which actually fueled passion for an escalation, not a ceasefire) was the USN knockout of IRIN's merchant convoy escort fleet.

    Some observers note that most IRI H2-Y strikes were against targets in Kuwait, which was a major financial backer of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Within range at the southern end of the Gulf, such an ally of Saddam Hussein was not present.

  2. I don't think you're wrong when you say that the downing of the 655 convinced Tehran of the war's "Americanization". However, I'd also argue that it was precisely this 'Americanization' that demonstrated to Tehran that there was no way they could win on the battlefield (...alongside Preying Mantis and the then-ongoing Iraqi offensives, etc.).

    Although the IRIN/IRIAF played it safe after Preying Mantis because they valued force-protection over 'making a statement', knowing full-well that get shot down by their American counterparts wouldn't help them win the war with Iraq, the IRGCN - beyond a tactical pause or two - resumed harassing the USN. However, the core leadership in Tehran concluded that there was no utility in confrontation and brought the IRGC/IRGCN back in line, checking their escalatory impulses.

    As far as HY-2 use in the northern vs sourthern Gulf, I would offer an alternative explanation. Although the southern Gulf didn't offer any coastal targets to Iran's HY-2 like there were in the north, there was still plenty of shipping traffic moving through Hormuz that were crucial to Iraq's war efforts, and could be threatened in order to pressure the same GCC-states.

    However, unlike the north, the southern gulf was outside of the normative battlefield previously defined. The Shatt al-Arab had seen fighting since the first days of the war, and thus missile-launches there were perceived as within the 'rules of the game' so-to-speak. This is part of the reason that Iran's anti-shipping activities elicited a greater international response than Iraq's. Baghdad's power projection was limited to the northern gulf, with the exception of a few ineffective long-range air-force sorties.

  3. Do they still even operate the hy2?,I know they have a turbojet powered version the ra`ad,I would think that the liquid fuel hy2 would be well and truly obsolete by now,tho it could stll have some use against large civilian vessels like oil tankers I suppose

  4. I've only ever seen the Raad a handful of times, and not in an operational context (ex: wargames), so I'm not sure whether how many of these exist.

    However the IRGCN has been seen with HY-2Gs in exercises. Most recently (Great Prophet, 2010), they've been shown on mobile-launchers using the same Mercedes Benz platform as their other ASCMs, suggesting that they're not just being expended for training, but are part of the active force-structure.

    As you note, they're biggest drawback is their preparation time (which is why these hardened batteries were constructed in the first place), and their exposed flight profile, but the latter isn't that relevant vs tankers.