The Persian Gulf has long been a waterway of strategic importance. On average, $105 billion worth of goods are exchanged between Iran and the Gulf states each year. In addition, approximately 20% of the world’s petroleum traverses the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passage between the Persian Gulf and the open seas. Clearly, ensuring the security of this body of water is vital to the health of the global economy. In this respect, the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet fulfills a significant role, as does Combined Task Force 152, a multinational contingent patrolling the Persian Gulf since 2004. But what role do regional navies play in securing these same waterways?

To address this question, it is worthwhile examining the corvettes employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Iraq, and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. These smaller, lighter vessels are sufficiently maneuverable to navigate the narrow waterways that characterize the region. Corvettes are also for the most part the heaviest vessels operated by the region’s maritime forces. Comparing the corvettes can provide valuable insight into the current and future balance of naval power in the Persian Gulf.

The Royal Navy of Oman (RNO) is representative of the rapid development taking place in the region’s maritime forces. For several years, the RNO has depended largely on its two Qahir-class corvettes (1,450 tons), which have been in operation since 1996. Beyond this pair of vessels, the RNO operated a single patrol ship, Al-Mubrukah; having begun life as a royal yacht, it was converted to a training ship for a time, then was re-designated to patrol Omani waters in 1997. However, the RNO has commissioned three Khareef-class corvettes (2,660 tons) from BAE Systems, based in Portsmouth, UK. The first of these vessels, Al-Shamikh, was  delivered in October 2013. The remaining two Khareef-class corvettes, Al-Rahmani and Al-Rasikh, are expected in 2014 and 2015 respectively. […]