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Iran Is Struggling With Anti-Aircraft Artillery

September 14, 2021
Via Iranian media.

Arms shows are enjoying a resurgence across the Middle East after a decade of little to no traction save for popular brands in Jordan and the UAE. But some important ones were held in unexpected places and received very little attention. For example, when Yemen’s Ansar Allah organized an indoor exhibition of their homegrown arsenal in March it didn’t attract serious scrutiny. The same happened in Iran last May when a large indoor/outdoor exhibition was held to showcase domestic armament production. In fact, so many different kinds of weapons were displayed at the event it remains a challenge trying to analyze them all even with exposure from Iranian media.

A real eye catcher in the same event (see photo above) appears to have eluded the usual concerned parties–Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the USA–when its very existence should come as a shock.

Seen in the background of the VIPs on their way to the venue is a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG) commonly known as the Oerlikon. Iran’s state-owned military-industrial sector manufactures copies of this popular Swiss anti-aircraft weapon used by many countries because of its firepower and range–its cannons are fed 35x228mm ammunition and can neutralize most low-flying targets. Other types of anti-aircraft artillery manufactured by Iran are the antiquated Soviet KS-19 100mm gun, the prolific ZU-23-2 23mm gun, and the well-known Bofors 40mm gun found on Iranian warships. Aside from these calibers Iran’s factories assemble 20mm cannons similar to the M167 VADS. Different types of heavy machine guns with potential anti-aircraft roles are mass-produced too.

The new SPAAG parked outside the exhibition venue in May looks like an improvement over earlier attempts at road mobile anti-aircraft artillery. It’s apparent the twin 35mm cannons are remote controlled by operators inside the rectangular station behind the truck cab. The truck, by the way, looks like a 6×6 model with an elongated bed supporting an auxiliary power unit that carries the Oerlikon cannons. What the only photo of this SPAAG doesn’t reveal is whether a small tracking radar is found on the vehicle or at least an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera on a pivoting mount…somewhere. The French-made RAPIDFire 40mm mobile gun and the Turkish-made Korkut SPAAG (that also uses tandem 35mm cannons) are good examples of how these essential target tracking tools are integrated with the main armament. The problem with not having these subsystems is the operators become reliant on radio commands alone and this may degrade the SPAAG’s effectiveness.

Of course, SPAAGs are meant to operate in batteries guided by a tracking radar and a command/control post; both are mounted on separate vehicles. Such is the case in other Iranian air defense systems but it’s unclear if the same has been readied for this SPAAG. Whether each battery has four, six, or eight vehicles they need to be accompanied by a mobile command post with wireless connectivity, a mobile medium-range tracking radar, possibly a mobile fire control radar and maybe batch of VTOL drones for enhanced situational awareness. The Iranian military’s need for SPAAGs is dire considering it lacks up-to-date anti-aircraft artillery and the growing air power of its closest adversaries. With its vast airspace and geographical size it has enormous spaces to fill in a national air defense network that’s becoming ever more complicated as the years go by.

Earlier attempts at developing SPAAGs led to many prototypes but little actual progress. A promising model featured the turret of the Soviet vintage ZSU-57-2 SPAAG mounted on a Ukrainian-made Kraz truck; it seems it never entered production. Other oddities include a fully automated KS-19 anti-aircraft gun; a bizarre attempt at combining eight 23mm cannons in a single towed carriage; and another Oerlikon variant carried on a 6×6 transporter. Other air defense weaponry manufactured by Iran are the “Misagh” MANPADS along with modified surface-to-air variants of the AIM-9 Sidewinder. Locally made short-range SAMs span copies of the Crotale (through China) and the MIM-23 Hawk. A suspected vehicle-based short-range SAM has been observed in the past year but its role and designation are unidentified for now.

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