Today the question of security for tankers in the Strait arises again, with Iran threatening to block the waterway.How might Iran accomplish this, and what resources could the U.S. bring to counter what would be understood internationally as an act of war? (The Egyptian closure of the Straits of Tiran in May 1967 was the act of war to which Israel responded in June -- the Six-Day War.)Over the past decade Iran has built up a naval capability that, while not "heavy" in terms of firepower, is nonetheless stealthy and dangerous. The stealthy part comes from Iran's submarine fleet, divided into two classes -- Kilo-class diesel electric submarines from Russia, and home-built mini submarines based on a North Korean/former-Yugoslavian design.Iran has four Kilo submarines and seventeen mini-submarines known as the Ghadir. Ghadirs are said to be equipped with a super-cavitation torpedo called the Hoot (or Whale), based on or a copy of the Russian Shkval (VA-111) torpedo. These torpedoes are at least three times faster than conventional ones. No oil tanker could evade them, and this type of torpedo also poses a threat to military ships. Ghadirs, especially if all of them are deployed, may not be easy to find. Until the threat is eliminated, oil tankers will stay away.Adding to the problem is a large number of smaller, fast ships such as the ten Houdong-class patrol boats, or the 12 Sina class missile boats. These ships carry C-802 sea-launched anti-ship missiles and 30mm canons. They are fast-moving, and many of them can be used together in a fight against a larger ship. This is a phenomenon known to naval experts as "swarming boats."And, while there has been a lot of talk on the subject, not much has been done either tactically or technologically to offset the threat. In fact, the lack of firepower on U.S. ships is a very real concern in the context of protecting critical shipping lanes, especially the Strait of Hormuz.For the U.S. to respond under current conditions and protect shipping lanes, it needs a lot of help from the allies in Europe, who -- despite a generally lagging ability to contribute military capabilities to a situation -- have firepower appropriate for this problem in the form of modern frigates, corvettes, and missile boats; mine-hunting ships; and plenty of good helicopters. The allies have good submarine assets (Germany, France, the U.K., and Italy) and have long played a role in protecting sea lines of communication in the Mediterranean.If the Iranian threat materializes, it is extremely important to assure full cooperation from NATO in order to keep the Strait open. This requires pre-planning and coordination, but in light of the fact that our European friends are more dependent on Persian Gulf oil than is the United States, there is reason to believe that cooperation will be forthcoming.If, in the end, Iran does try to prevent oil tankers from transiting the Strait, and if in the end the U.S. is unable to offer direct protection to ships that desire transit, there are other ways to force Iran to desist. It would likely be ugly, and it is not to be desired, but Iran and Iran-watchers would be foolish indeed to doubt America's retaliatory capability after an act of war.
In other words, Iran's threat to the Strait of Hormuz is real and their capabilities exceed what many of us had assumed. No wonder their rhetoric reflects a very confident position towards a coming war.
The stage is most definitely set - the question becomes not "if" but "when" this conflict will occur.