Saam-class/Vosper Thornycroft Mark 5 Frigate, IIS Saam (DE12)

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Saam-class/Vosper Thornycroft Mark 5 Frigate, IIS Saam (DE12)

Coastal vessel, Iranian frigate, 4th in a line of Cold War Vosper-Thornycroft export ships. The earliest refit of this long-serving ship features a fast-firing destroyer cannon and guided missile systems.

In the 1960s, after the successful sales of their Mark 1 and 3 corvettes, Vosper-Thornycroft developed a new frigate design using the experience gained from these earlier ships, called the Vosper Thornycroft Mark 5 Frigate. The main feature of the design was the use of a modern CODOG drive system, which would allow it a high max speed while also giving it a good cruising range. Additionally, it was designed to fit the compact and computer-guided modern weapons of its time, which together would allow the ship to have a smaller size and crew requirement compared to contemporary frigates. In 1966, Iran would order 4 of this new frigate design, which they would call the Saam-class. The ships were armed with 5 Sea Killer missiles and an automatic 114mm cannon for surface targets, a twin 35mm autocannon and a Sea Cat SAM for aerial targets, and a Limbo mortar for submarines.

The first ship, Saam, named after a hero from the Iranian epic Shahnameh, was laid down at the Vosper-Thornycroft shipyard in Woolston in 1967. It was completed in 1971, but as the intended automatic 114mm Mark 8 cannon wasn’t ready by that point, it was fitted with an older Mark 5 gun instead (the same gun on the Daring and Battle-class). It was only in 1976 that it would receive its intended cannon. When it entered service, it was one of the most technologically advanced ships, which would start a trend of smaller and faster multipurpose frigates. It would have a relatively calm service during the first few years of its life, but in 1979 the Iranian monarchy was overthrown, and the new Islamic Republic turned against the West, which led to spare parts and Western technical advisors being cut-off, while at the same time, most of the naval purchases had come directly from the Shah so new naval procurement was effectively ended.

The Saam-class ships received new names in 1985, after Iranian mountains, with Saam being renamed Alvand (and the whole class being renamed the Alvand-class). It fought in the Iran-Iraq War, mostly during the so-called “Tanker War” phase, attacking merchant ships headed for Iraq, until the loss of its sister ship Sahand during Operation Praying Mantis by American forces led to it being kept in port for the rest of the war. Post-war, the ship underwent a refit, where its now-obsolete Sea Cat missiles were replaced with autocannons. In the late 1990s, it replaced its Sea Killers with Chinese C-802 missiles, and later on had 2 triple ASW torpedo launchers added. Despite the cut-off from Western support, the frigate has been kept in good condition, with many of the Western systems having been replaced with alternatives, and it continues to serve to this day, visiting friendly ports and participating in exercises out of its home waters.

Specifications: (1971)

1x1 4.5"/45 (114mm) QF Mark 5
1x2 35mm/90 Oerlikon-Bührle GDM-A
1x5 Sea Killer Mark 2 SSM
1x3 Seacat SAM (12 missiles)
1x3 305mm Limbo Mark 10 ASW mortar

1250t standard
1540t full

Length: 94.5m

Beam: 10.5m

Draft: 3.5m

Propulsion: 2 Rolls-Royce Olympus TM3A gas turbines and 2 Paxman Ventura diesel engines, 46 000 + 3800 hp, driving 2 shafts

Speed: 40 knots (74.1 km/h)

Range: 5000nmi (at 15 knots)

Crew: 135 (146 maximum)

2 Contraves Sea Hunter 4 (RTN-10X) fire control radars
Plessey AWS-2 search radar
Decca 1226 navigation radar
Type 170 sonar
Type 174 sonar


Saam under construction/fitting out

After renaming to Alvand

Alvand in 2017, note the new missiles, torpedoes, and autocannons

Sister ship Sabalan, showing an excellent aerial rear view, featuring the Sea Killers, Limbo, and 35mm

Gardiner, R., Chumbley, S., & Budzbon, P. (1995). Iran. In Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1947-1995 (pp. 184). Naval Institute Press.
Sobański, M. (2002). Irańskie fregaty typu Saam. In Okręty Wojenne Vol. XII, Nr 56 (6/2002) (pp. 69-73).

[IIS SAAM DE12 - IMO 4563799]
[IIS SAAM DE12 - IMO 4563799]

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