Iran’s answer to the U.S. Navy’s expeditionary sea base ship class appears to be its newly commissioned Makran, a modified oil tanker that was converted domestically to serve as a mobile Iranian sea base and multirole vessel. The new ship, pennant number 441, entered service with the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (which is separate from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy) in January 2021. This past spring and summer, the massive warship, the largest ever in Iranian service, made headlines worldwide when she sailed with the frigate Sahand out of the Persian Gulf and made her way to the Atlantic Ocean.
Initial reports speculated that the Makran, which carried seven Peykaap-class fast-attack craft on her deck, was traveling to Venezuela to transfer arms in defiance of U.S. sanctions. Instead, the Makran and Sahand sailed up the West Coast of Africa, through the English Channel, and into the Baltic Sea, en route to St. Petersburg to take part in celebrations honoring the Russian Navy’s 325th birthday.
Although Iran has long threatened to send naval assets into the Atlantic, this recent deployment marked the first time its warships have followed through, raising concerns for the United States and its allies of a potentially emboldened maritime threat from Iran. At the same time, the Makran’s voyage came on the heels of a nearly simultaneous and equally important setback for the Iranian fleet. The 33,000-ton replenishment ship Kharg, Iran’s second-largest warship, caught fire and sank on 2 June, just days before the Makran rounded the Cape of Good Hope.
The 121,000-ton Makran began life as the Beta, an Aframax tanker built by Sumitomo Heavy Industries at Yokosuka, Japan, in 2010. She was previously owned in the United Arab Emirates and operated under the Liberian flag. Measuring 750-feet long, her modifications for naval service include a large helicopter landing deck, although no hangar is fitted. The Makran is reportedly able to carry between five and seven rotary-wing aircraft and can operate unmanned aircraft as well. She has been sighted armed with 20-mm and 23-mm antiaircraft guns, as well as 12.7-mm machine guns, and fitted with surface-search radar and masts for electronic warfare/electronic support measures. The ship also has sufficient space to carry containerized cargo, missiles or other large weapons, and special operations forces, depending on the mission. The Makran can transport 100,000 tons of fuel and fresh water, enabling a reported 1,000-day endurance between port calls. Her top speed is thought to be 15 knots.