Last week, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), one of the Iranian Armed Forces’ multi-service primary branches, is said to have completed the world’s first known very small air-defense boat. This report comes amid rising concerns about Tehran’s rapidly increasing military power in the Middle East region, which certain countries in the Persian Gulf and Israel see as a threat.

Yet Another Outlandish Concept

According to Naval Analyst and open-source intelligence (OSINT) expert HI Sutton, the said odd lethal craft is more likely to be used domestically by the IRGC Navy. Nonetheless, the international community should not write this off or ignore it—no matter how “outlandish” these Iranian weapons concepts may be.

The small Iranian air-defense boat is first-of-its-kind and is speculated to be named Zulfiqar class. Sutton explained in his blog that the circulating name needs to be verified, as the IRGC already has other existing equipment bearing the same name. Regardless, the OSINT expert believes the boat has short-range surface-to-air missiles (SAM) as its main armament, looking more like a sea-mobile Soviet Tor air-defense missile system.

Think of it as a sea-mobile Tor system rather than an micro AEGIS destroyer though,” Sutton wrote, adding that the small vessel could also provide short-range air defense for a swarm of other boats, possibly capable of deterring helicopter assaults.

Along with Sutton’s report is a video that surfaced on social media, demonstrating a Nawab SAM being fired up from a Vertical Launch System (VLS) mounted on the vessel.

Obviously, small boats are vulnerable, particularly to air attacks, no matter how powerful their armaments are, unlike bigger warships. But what’s fascinating about this bizarre Iranian weapon concept is it’s fitted with a SAM system instead of the usual Man-Portable Air-Defence Systems (MANPADS) used by small crafts.

Sutton pointed out that the VLS located behind the large radome, as seen in the video, looked identical to what is known as the Nawab short ranged air defense missile. The air defense missile has an estimated range of 15 km that features quite similar to the capabilities of an SA-15 Gauntlet (Tor) system, as mentioned earlier, which Iran acquired from Russia in the mid-to-late 2000s.

The Nawab missile appears to have an infrared seeker which removes the near for a tracking radar like on Gauntlet,” Sutton explained. “This makes the system more lightweight and better suited to fitting aboard a small boat.”

Moreover, Sutton and other military observers said that the unique hull of the Iranian air-defense boat has possibly been derived from a British-built Bladerunner 51 powerboat—known to hold the record for the fastest circumnavigation of Britain.

Despite the trade block, Iran managed to get its hands on the British speedboat via a South African arms dealer in 2009. Subsequently, developing its own version, the Seraj-1, a year later.

IRGC Navy’s Seraj-1 speedboat (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

It is unclear whether the IRGC Navy intends to use its outlandish small air-defense boat for purposes other than domestic operations.

Last year, the IRGC Navy received three indigenously-built vessels outfitted with cutting-edge air defense systems, which then-Commander Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsir claimed were capable of carrying helicopters and missiles, launch unmanned aircraft, and have the ability to evade hostile radars.

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The arrival of the speculated Zulfiqar class is set to boost Iran’s naval presence and threat in the Red Sea and nearby region.

Growing Naval Strength

Despite numerous Western sanctions, Tehran appears to be steadily expanding its military strength, including its naval fleet for its navies—the state navy and the IRGC Navy.

In recent years, the IRGC, in particular, has been acquiring high-end, as well as upgrading its fleet. Last week, the Navy inducted dozens of Ashura-class and Tariq-class speedboats, reportedly equipped with modified rocket and missile launchers, and the Iranian-made Shahid Mahdavi vessel, a converted commercial ship into a destroyer.

Last June, Sutton also reported via USNI News about Iran’s seemingly under-construction stealth missile boat. This was discovered via public satellite imagery and assumed to be a Catamaran warship with a clean-angle hull that gives off a stealthy appearance. The imagery likewise captured another new Iranian vessel, a Shahid Soleimani-class missile corvette fitted with a stealth-look design—proving the service branch’s dedication to further strengthening its naval capabilities.

Iran’s bizarre weapons concepts have been attributed to its struggle to build large, even normal-size warships and other modern weapon systems, primarily because of international sanctions. Nevertheless, the country has gained a reputation for producing ballistic missiles and drones, with the latter notoriously aiding Russia in its special military operations in Ukraine.

Its looming nuclear weapon project is another headache for its neighbors and the West, with talks of possibly reviving the abandoned Iran deal currently underway.