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Go Read This Deep Analysis Of Iranian Air Defenses

September 16, 2018

Via Wikimedia Commons.

This week the author behind the Iran Geomil blog published a detailed analysis of the Islamic Republic’s overlapping ground-based air defenses. According to “Amir,” who goes by the Twitter handle @AmirThePersian1, the country is very well-protected from air attacks although shortcomings exist. Amir reached this conclusion by using geospatial markers and open sources on specific missile systems that allowed him to illustrate the extent of air defenses over Iran’s major cities.

Amir’s work includes nine maps and six segments that try to explain how Iran’s anti-air defenses function. The author doesn’t claim any links to the country’s government or military but his research is useful for enthusiasts and researchers alike.

Based on his findings, Amir offers a grocery list of Iran’s present air defense inventory–anti-aircraft guns were left out–at the beginning of the work. What should surprise readers is the reliance on Soviet and Russian missiles for theater air defense. While Iran maintains substantial stocks of US and NATO surface to air missiles (SAMs), these are either outdated or have limited range. Amir’s breakdown reveals the S-200VE, a Cold War vintage high altitude SAM also known by its NATO handle the SA-5 Gammon, is used to defend five locations in western and northwestern Iran, including the capital.

The HQ-2 is a Chinese copy of the Soviet SA-2. Iran may have acquired dozens of missiles in the late 1980s and have since upgraded them. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Amir’s work shows Tehran is fortified with layers of SAMs. These include the S-200VE; at least two batteries of the S-300PMU2 Favorit; a battery of Chinese HQ-2 SAMs based on the Soviet SA-2; and a combination of medium-range Sayyad-2, Raad/Ra’ad, and MIM-23 Hawk SAMs. Readers must take note the Sayyad-2/Talash and the Raad/Ra’ad are both domestically produced SAMS. Below are descriptions of their features:

  1. Sayyad-2/Talash – This SAM should worry Iran’s enemies. It’s been ascertained the Sayyad-2 is based on reverse-engineered RIM-66 SAMs. These were sold by the US to Tehran in the 1970s and are considered among the best naval SAMs in the world. It turns out Iran’s military industries adapted it to a new platform at the beginning of this decade.
  2. Raad/Ra’ad – Another copy, this time of the prolific Soviet Kub, but the Iranian derivative uses a specially designed 6×6 launch vehicle. Raad/Ra’ad’s have been fixtures in annual parades but Amir believes only a few are in service at the moment.

In 2007 Iran paid $800 million for a large batch of S300PMU2’s from Russia. These were finally delivered in 2016. S-300PMU2 batteries protect Tehran, Esfahan, and Bandar Bushehr on the Persian Gulf. Via Wikimedia Commons.

But as locally made SAMs enter service with the Revolutionary Guard the baseline of Iranian air defenses remains the US-made MIM-23 Hawk and Amir locates 19 batteries spread across the country, including Mashshad near the peaceful border with Turkmenistan and Abu Musa island guarding the Strait of Hormuz. One critical if understated capability mentioned in Amir’s work is the Nazir radar complex. As an over the horizon (OTH) radar built on a plateau in central Iran 2,900 meters above sea level, the Nazir covers an 800 kilometer radius extending to most of Turkmenistan and eastern Afghanistan.

A useful bit of intel from Amir’s work on Iran’s air defenses are the SAM’s deployed to three controversial sites: Bandar Bushehr, Arak, and Natanz. These are where Iran’s “nuclear infrastructure” is found and are considered the main targets for preemptive airstrikes by either Israel or the US. This is because the coastal city of Bandar Bushehr has a nuclear power plant; Arak in the northwest is where a heavy water reactor is located; and Natanz is suspected to have an underground uranium enrichment lab. Not surprisingly, all three are covered by overlapping SAM sites.

Amir’s analysis of Bandar Bushehr shows at least one S-200VE battery, one S-300PMU2 battery, and three MIM-23 Hawk batteries. Arak is surrounded by MIM-23 Hawk batteries and almost falls within Tehran’s air defense umbrella. Natanz, which is northwest of Esfahan, must be the second most heavily guarded location in Iran. It’s covered by an HQ-2 battery and Russian-made Kub and Tor mobile SAMs. The S-200VE and S-300PMU2 batteries in Tehran and Esfahan protect Natanz as well.

President Hassan Rouhani in front of a Bavar-373 long-range SAM. The Bavar-373 is armed with Sayyad-3 missiles based on the US RIM-66 and have ranges superior to the 48N6 missile of the S-300PMU2. Via Iranian media.

Criticism also forms part of Amir’s work and he does explain how significant gaps in the air defenses along the Persian Gulf can be exploited by an adversary. The historic city of Shiraz is singled out as having no defenses of any kind. Since Amir prefers to anticipate a war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the near future, he describes scenarios where Saudi standoff munitions launched by F-15SA’s can hit Iran’s energy infrastructure. But Amir claims if Iran embraces three locally made SAMs it can diminish the effectiveness of conventional airstrikes. These are the long-range Bavar-373 that complements the S-300PMU2; the medium-range Sayyad-2 and Talash; and the short-range Raad/Ra’ad based on the Russian SA-6.

The breadth and detail found in Amir’s work deserves the attention of regional experts and even journalists who keep a close watch over the military balance in the Persian Gulf. Yet there might be discrepancies between his findings and what the IRGC and Artesh have on the ground. “I don’t know what’s going on in the heads of Iran’s military planners,” Amir wrote. “The quantity and quality of Iran’s future SAM coverage could vary significantly.”

In fact, Amir isn’t sure how Iran’s air defenses will change by the 2020s. “Tehran could just set up new sites in previously uncovered areas of the country, like the east,” he wrote. “Regardless, there is evidence of progress.”

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