Iran is significantly expanding its naval capabilities as the U.S. Navy removes one of its two aircraft carriers from the Persian Gulf due to budgetary constraints.
As the U.S. Navy cuts its fleet to account for impending cuts to the defense budget, Iran has significantly boosted the regional deployment of advanced warships capable of carrying armed unmanned drones and other types of firepower.
The U.S. Navy announced recently that budgetary constraints forced it to cut in half the number of aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf. The reduction comes despite an official Defense Department directive ordering no less than two carriers be present in the region due to concerns about Iran.
Iranian military leaders are now declaring naval supremacy in the gulf while mocking America’s presence in the region. Additionally, Iran has launched a weeklong series of military drills dubbed "Great Prophet 8" across its southern region.
"Today we have powerful navy, and also very good commercial fleet, and we should strive to accelerate coast line infrastructure developments," Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, commander of Iran’s Navy, was quoted as saying in Iran’s state-run media earlier this month. "We can confront any enemy anywhere."
The rhetoric is apparently being supported with aggressive action unseen in decades. Iranian leaders view the navy as its primary deterrent to attack and are moving more ships into the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, and elsewhere, according to reports.
The Islamic Republic’s 24th fleet of warships was sent on a three-month deployment that will reach as far as southeastern Asia, according to Iran’s Press TV.
"The Navy’s 24th fleet of warships will patrol the north of the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Aden, Bab-el-Mandeb, the Red Sea, Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean Sea for three months and will even sail as far as southeastern Asian countries," Sayyari was quoted as saying last month.
An Iranian presence in these regions would enable it potentially to disrupt critical shipping lanes such as the Straits of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil supply passes.
It also enables the rogue regime potentially to carry arms to terrorist forces in Sudan and other African countries.
"While the international community focuses on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, the Iranian government has been investing heavily in both its regular navy and its corollary Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGC-N)," according to a recent report written for the U.S. military.
Additionally, Iran announced that it is building new naval bases as far away as Pakistan, according to Iranian military leaders.
Sayyari announced earlier this week that a new naval base is being constructed near the Pakistan port city of Gwadar, an economically important area located near the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf, according to Iran’s Mehr News Agency.
Sayyari said the base would help Iran "better control movements in the region," an ominous warning as Western nations continue to warn Iran against disrupting global trade routes.
Iranian warships have also begun travelling to the Strait of Malacca, one of Asia’s most important shipping lanes.
"This fleet of warship will definitely traverse through the Strait of Malacca in the very eastern point of the Indian Ocean and will then return to Iran," Sayyari was quoted by Fars News Agency as saying.
Iran will also build sea bases on its southern coast "in a bid to strengthen the country's line of defense," according to Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi.
"With its powerful presence in Makran coasts, the [Iranian] Army's Navy can push back enemies from the coasts and prevent them from exercising their strategy," Vahidi was quoted as saying by the Fars News Agency.
Western experts warn that Iran is serious about boosting its naval expertise, particularly as it ramps up the production of uranium that could be used to fuel a nuclear weapon.
"Iran’s navy is its insurance against [nuclear] containment," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq. "The more active its navy, the less willing Arab states concerned about [President] Obama's lack of reliability will be to defy rather than fold to Iranian threats."
Iran has performed an increasing number of naval drills over the past months aimed at showing the U.S. and other Western nations that its military prowess has improved.
Iran unveiled a new stealth submarine earlier this year that it claims can evade Western radar technologies.
The U.S. Navy announced it was reducing the size of its fleet from 313 to 306 to Congress last month and reduced its active carrier fleet to 10 vessels.
Further reductions "will leave the Navy unable to surge a large number of ships and strike fighters to a hot spot like the Persian Gulf," the Washington Times reported Wednesday.
These reductions leave the force incapable of responding to multiple regional threats, experts say.
"On one hand, Iran is expanding its navy to give Iranian sailors their greatest operational range since the 10th century," Rubin said. "Obama's defense? Cut carriers, lay off Marines, and send the Senate's two greatest defeatists to reassure American allies."