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Iran Sends Warships to Cruise the East Coast. Should You Worry?

By Rich Smith - Feb 9, 2014 at 2:45PM

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The main effect here may be to bolster the U.S. military-industrial complex.

Alarum! Alarum! The Iranian Navy approacheth. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Iran has sent a fleet of warships to cruise the U.S. East Coast -- and Americans are freaking out.

The Interwebs are ablaze today frantic reports from CNN, The Washington Post, and even The Blaze, warning that a fleet of Iranian warships has rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and is sailing northwest from South Africa.

Their mission, according to Iranian naval chief Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari: "Like the arrogant powers that are present near our marine borders, we will also have a powerful presence close to American marine borders."

(So if you've ever wondered: How do people in China and Russia, in North Korea and Iran, feel about U.S. Navy warships patrolling off their shores, armed to the teeth, and potentially looking for trouble? Now you know.)

The truth behind the headlines
The admiral's statement may sound a bit bellicose. But in fact, this "fleet" that Iran is sending to cruise U.S. shores isn't really all that scary. Consisting of one "destroyer" (that is actually a frigate) and a single OI-class supply ship to keep it running, Iran's fleet is pretty puny in the grand scheme of things.

The British-built boat, the IS Sabalan (F-73), is believed to carry an assortment of torpedoes, mortars, and machine guns -- but just one cannon and a small handful of anti-ship missiles. It's a significant threat to your average sailboat, perhaps -- but not too worrisome to the pack of American nuclear-powered attack submarines that you can be pretty certain are shadowing it as we speak.

An Alvand-class Iranian frigate similar to the Sabalan, now en route to U.S. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

While it's true that this particular Iranian warship has a "history" with the U.S. Navy -- on April 19, 1988, A-6E Intruders from the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) bombed the Sabalan, crippling the ship after it opened fire on the planes -- the chances that it's coming to America to start a new fight are exceedingly slim. And in any case, at ordinary cruising speeds it would take the Iranians nearly one full month to travel from their present location off the South African coast, to somewhere near the Port of New York -- if they even decide to complete the trip.

What it means to you
The U.S. Congress is currently embroiled in a debate over how, and how much, to fund the U.S. military. Plans have been floated to slash the number of Littoral Combat Ships ordered from defense contractors Lockheed Martin (LMT -0.60%) and General Dynamics (GD -1.30%), and to delay construction of an aircraft carrier being built by Huntington Ingalls (HII -1.97%) as well.

The biggest effect of today's news -- other than to give headline writers something to write about -- may be to give the Pentagon ammunition to argue against further spending cuts to the U.S. Navy's budget.

Iran's IS Sabalan (F-73) -- 45 years old, but still capable of stirring up trouble. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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