The Saam

Back in the 80's a certain book was among my favourites in the local library: A German copy of "Fighting Ships" by Hugh Lyon. It was a small book which offered an overview over the modern warships at the time of its publication. The English original's first edition was published in 1981 (poor timing considering the news from the Falklands War soon-after). In fact, I liked the book so much that I bought one in ebay a year or two ago.

I can still recall many if not most ship descriptions from this tiny book, and this explains my surprise when I saw a photo of an Iranian ship crossing the Suez Canal (and provoking a ridiculous political and media echo): It was easily recognizable as one of those ancient Saam class ships from the book!

IIS Saam / Alvand

I immediately recalled the most interesting details from the book's description of the Saam; a decent gun, an outstanding top speed of about 40 kts, a ridiculously weak anti-submarine equipment, mostly useless short-range subsonic Seacat ship/air missiles and that strange light Seakiller ship/ship missile. The Saam class was a better gunboat, at most a coastal corvette, back in the early 80's.

Wikipedia told me that the ship class had been renamed, somewhat re-armed, a surprising quantity had survived the Persian Gulf War and last but not least; the ship from the Suez Canal was the former Saam itself!

The ship can today be regarded as a coastal corvette with a serious lack of effective air defences or as an oversized fast attack craft (not very much unlike Typ 143 A). It's also astonishingly old at 40 years; even some notoriously long-living aircraft carriers were decommissioned at a lower age.
An old rule of thumb stipulated that a ship is fine for about 15 years, can still be useful for 15 more years and then be decommissioned. Aircraft carriers and training ships were always exceptions because they had less problems with obsolete subsystems. The rule of thumb has been slightly stretched due to the slowed-down naval tech advances (and an increased readiness for upgrades) after the Cold War.

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Let's face it; a marginally powerful warship shouldn't be taken more seriously when showing the flag than a sailing yacht. Symbolic foreign policy is hot air that dissipates if nobody cares. Gunboat diplomacy was relevant when a) it was done in countries who were even incapable of countering a marginally powerful gunboat or b) a gunboat's presence was merely the vanguard of a serious fleet.

There is no serious Iranian fleet. It's got three Kilo SSKs of questionable effectiveness (the basic design is OK, but everything else is in doubt), a bunch of FACs/coastal corvettes and a bunch of small auxiliaries.



  1. I guess the fuzz is rather about the Kharg. More than 10,000 tons of shiny new toys going to Hezbollah could make Israels life a lot harder.

  2. Anon
    If the IDF decides to sieze the Iranian transport ship, I'm not sure what anyone thinks the Saam is going to do to stop it.
    Sink with all hands?

  3. Well, the Saam surely wouldn't stand by, while Kharg would be searched, she is too heavily armed to just ignore and conduct vbss on Kharg, even though she is an oldie, I believe she could handle boarding teams in helicopters and rhib's. While I have no doubt she could be sunk quite easily by the IAF or IN, I think it would sent a wrong message to the international community, especially with the recent unrest in the arab world.
    Israel sinking a foreign naval ship of a nation it is not at war at in a time of peace... way to shape opinion...

  4. IDF seizing an Iranian warship...good luck with that! Can you spell "act of war"? The Saams presence makes the potential escalation Israel has to initiate for any kind of boarding just big enough, so that an Iranian response would be guaranteed. By the way, those ships have now arrived in Syria, including whatever Kharg was carrying.

    Except crying and shouting there is absolutely nothing Israel can do.

    No matter how one turns it, this event payed off quite well politically for Iran, but will probably hold much more relevance for the future, when they repeat that exercise. Then the cargo holds will be full for sure.