Kornet-armed Iranian boats could destroy the USS Lincoln

Calculations of range, firepower and thickness of protective steel show a fair possiblity that a Kornet missile may be able to penetrate the USS Abraham Lincoln's hull.

Mark Langfan, | updated: 16:18

OpEds Mark Langfan
Mark Langfan
Mark Langfan
On 15 May 2019, The New York Times reported an article entitled, “Iran Threat Debate Is Set Off by Images of Missiles at Sea.”  What "threat" could they possibly have meant?

Iran may have placed highly advanced “fire-and-forget” anti-tank weapons with a 5-6 mile range on low-tech very solid heavy low-profile wooden boats.  Such a multiple Iranian asymmetric threat could represent an existential threat to the American USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier battle group if the battle group enters the Persian Gulf.

The New York Times article stated, “The intelligence that caused the White House to escalate its warnings about a threat from Iran came from photographs of missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces, three American officials said.  Overhead imagery showed fully assembled missiles, stoking fears that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps would fire them at United States naval ships. Additional pieces of intelligence picked up threats against commercial shipping and potential attacks by Arab militias with Iran ties on American troops in Iraq. . . . As military officials struggled to show that the threat from Iran was growing, intelligence officials declassified a photograph of one of the small boats, called dhows, carrying what was described as a functional Iranian missile.”


The relatively small size and narrow width of the Persian Gulf presents a challenge for a modern aircraft carrier battle group.  
First, the relatively small size and narrow width of the Persian Gulf presents a challenge for a modern aircraft carrier battle group.  The Persian Gulf is about 615 miles long and about 35-55 miles wide. Wikipedia asserts that an American aircraft battle group “normally consists of 1 Aircraft Carrier, 1 Guided Missile Cruiser (for Air Defense), 2 LAMPS (Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System) Capable Warships (focusing on Anti-Submarine and Surface Warfare), and 1–2 Anti Submarine Destroyers or Frigates.”  

So, an American armada of about seven ships has to navigate a relatively small body of enclosed water bottled up by the Straits of Hormuz, only 21 nautical miles wide at its narrowest point.

Add to this tight strategic mix perhaps a dozen Iranian old-fashioned heavy-wooden dhows (old, old wooden sailboats with motors) armed with what US intelligence describes as “missiles.”  The only effective “missile” on such a low-tech dhow would be an anti-tank missile. The archetypal anti-tank missile in the Iranian inventory is the Kornet-EM, whose production is licensed by Russia for production in Iran.  

The range of the Kornet-EM is 8km (5mi) for an anti-tank warhead and 10km (6.2mi) for a thermobaric warhead. A “thermobaric” warhead is a mini fuel-air bomb. Think KITCHEN GAS STOVE EXPLOSION TIMES 5! In addition, the Kornet-EM is a “fire-and-forget” missile. So, an Iranian dhow just has to get within 5 miles of a carrier or ship in the battle group, aim, fire, and motor away.

Now, how thick is the above-the-water-line hull of an American aircraft carrier?  And, how penetrable is a Kornet anti-tank missile? If the Kornet’s penetration power exceeds the steel thickness of USS Lincoln’s above-the-water-line hull, there is a huge threat to the USS Lincoln.

The USS Abraham Lincoln is a Nimitz-class carrier and according to Wikipedia has only “been constructed with 2.5 inches (64 mm) of Kevlar armor over vital spaces.  Additionally, for the “non-vital spaces, Seth Cropsey, a naval expert” was quoted in an article about American armor on its Arleigh Burke-class destroyer saying that “the DDG-51s’ (“destroyer”) hull thickness is a quarter of an inch.  Armor this isn’t.” So, is an older Nimitz-class steel hull much thicker than a destroyer’s steel hull?

Let’s say the USS Abraham Lincoln’s above-the –water-line hull’s thickness is either 2.5 inches of Kevlar or ½ inch of steel or both.

This is the scary part.  A kornet anti-tank missile has an effective penetration ability that goes through the steel equivalent of about 1200mm (47.2 inches) of Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA)(steel) that is after a wall of Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA). Modern tanks, of course, don’t have 47.2 inches of steel armor. Instead, they have advanced ceramics of about 4-5 inches of ceramic armor that has the functional equivalent of many inches of steel.  To account for the ceramic’s strength they calibrate a certain ceramic to an “inches of rolled homogeneous steel” equivalent.

It is unimaginable that an above-the-water-line hull of an American aircraft carrier has anything close to the functional equivalent of 47.2 inches of steel after going through reactive explosive armor (REA).  If the American aircraft carrier doesn’t have the equivalent of 47.2 inches of steel, and it is almost certain it doesn’t, then all bets are off, and a Kornet-EM can easily pierce the hull of an American aircraft carrier.  

Once a Kornet-EM missile pierces the hull of an American aircraft carrier, heaven only knows what could happen. Compound the problem with a thermobaric/fuel-air-bomb warhead, and you have an existential danger to the USS Abraham Lincoln. In short, if a Kornet-EM can pierce the side of an Abrams M1A1 American battle tank, it can pierce the side of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Any American intelligence showing that Iran is loading “missiles” on dhows should be taken with the highest, gravest, and greatest concern.

 

 



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