Skip to content

Why Did Iran And North Korea Make The Same SAM?

October 31, 2021
Via Iranian media.

Although not a secret, Iran’s intense military build up is entering its fifth year, and the results are still defying expectations. The network of state-owned manufacturers that supply the armed forces have accelerated their efforts ever since the JCPOA’s collapse in 2018, which set Washington, DC and Tehran on a war path, resulting in the latter’s rapid introduction of so many new weapon systems. The exercise called “Defenders of the Velayat Skies 1400” held in mid-October became a showcase for new air defense equipment and one particular model has never been seen before–an analog to the Russian-made Tor-M1 but on a repurposed six-wheeler truck. (Pictured above.)

Iran’s air defense branch is among a dozen international operators of the Tor short-range SAM. Its primary characteristics are a large tracked vehicle mounting a turret that launches its munitions vertically–they pop up and accelerate in mid-air. Each Tor SAM launcher is equipped with two portable radars for detection and targeting. The Tor is offered for export in several variants including an articulated “arctic” transporter, a wheeled transporter, and a naval launch system. Russia’s official arms export agency is promoting the Tor-E2 that now carries 16 missiles for global end users. However, the Tor-M2E and Tor-M2KM remain listed on the Rosoboronexport website.

The Iranian attempt at copying this Russian SAM combines the launcher for the earlier Tor-M1 variant with a purpose built control station on the bed of a six-wheeler transport. The vehicle identified by Iranian media as “Dezful” appears to be a commercial truck imported from the EU. The exact name of this SAM system in Iranian service hasn’t been confirmed yet but it joins at least two more short-range SAMs that are in service. These are the “Ya Zahra,” which is an Iranian copy of the Chinese-made HQ-7 (itself copied from the French-made Crotale), and the “Mersad” that’s copied from the US-made MIM-23 Hawk albeit with new box launchers and a transporter. Both models are road mobile and have undergone extensive testing.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is north-korea-new-tor-based-sam-2020.jpg
Via North Korean media.

The choice of adapting the Tor-M1 for a somewhat new SAM system may baffle the casual observer. It doesn’t help that Iranian Tor-M1’s are responsible for the country’s worst civil aviation disaster in recent memory. On January 8, 2020, a single Tor-M1 deployed to protect Tehran’s international airport mistook a Ukrainian passenger plane for a missile and engaged it. The accidental shoot down resulted in the deaths of 167 people. What’s still unclear is if the state-owned manufacturer who assembled this variant of the Tor-M1 was directed to produce a new SAM system or just create a variant with the existing Tor-M1’s in service, hence adapting the vertical launcher on a new transport. Can it be proven Russia is involved with this project?

An irresistible coincidence is Iran’s introduction of a localized Tor-M1 variant arrives a year since North Korea’s own air defense branch revealed its latest SAM system. During the KPA’s epic military parade in October 2020 the long and short-range SAMs for replacing the Soviet vintage systems were shown. Aside from what’s considered a locally made analog of the S-300 there was a Tor-like SAM system on a trailer. The same vehicles appeared at another parade in January 2021 and at least a single model was at an indoor exhibition called “Self Defense 2021” this month.

Yet this Tor-like SAM from North Korea has noticeable differences from any of the known Russian variants. Its turret containing the vertical launchers is bigger and the twin radars on it are similar to those found on the Chinese-made HQ-17AE that’s in direct competition with the Russian-made Tor-M2K. Why the North Koreans decided on a ten-wheel trailer for this SAM system is worth contemplating. Just like the original Tor-M1/M2 it’s better to mount the turret on a fully armored hull with a tracked chassis; a vehicle type North Korea knows how to assemble. It’s just as easy to repurpose a 6×6 or 8×8 truck for it like what the Iranians did rather than employ such a large transporter.

The sudden introduction of Tor-like or Tor variants within a year by the Iranian and North Korean militaries suggests they have re-imagined the threat posed by aerial warfare conducted by the US and its regional allies. Russia hypes the Tor-M1/M2/M2K as a short-range SAM best suited against low-flying aircraft and drones and it’s even tailored for intercepting cruise missiles and other standoff munitions. Maybe this is what helped shape the decisions to adapt Tor-like variants for their short-range air defense layer rather than maintain older SAMs like MIM-23 Hawk (Iran) or the 9K35 Strela-10 and S-125 Pechora (North Korea).

Comments are closed.