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Iran Is Continuously Weaponizing The Aras 2

November 29, 2021
Via Iranian media.

A large-scale military exercise in mid-October became a showcase for the new generation of Iranian-made air defense systems. “Defenders of the Velayat Skies 1400” involved the IRGC and at least three branches of the regular armed forces–the air force, the air defense force, and the ground force–coordinating their activities with various equipment, including road mobile radars. The exercises also took place in the tense weeks after a sudden diplomatic rift with Azerbaijan started when Iranian drivers were detained while hauling merchandise to Armenia. Baku and Tehran eventually normalized their relationship the following month but the Velayat Skies exercise in October was memorable for the weaponry it brought to the world’s attention.

A rare appearance at the exercise were Aras 2 pickup trucks–these are locally assembled 4×4’s–mounting launch tubes for an unspecified missile. Iranian media later presented the vehicle as the “Majid” short-range air defense system. It appears the launchers can be armed with up to four missiles but photos released by Iranian media shows two or three missiles on each of them. The Aras 2 pickup truck is analogous but not similar to the Toyota Land Cruiser, which is used by Iran’s armed forces together with the well-known Hilux. Since 2019 hundreds of Aras 2’s have appeared with the IRGC and at exhibitions where their combat roles are advertised. Aras 2’s mounting improvised rocket launchers are found with Iranian proxies in Iraq.

According to Iranian media the Velayat Skies exercises involved the Bavar-373 long-range SAM and different medium-range SAMs like the 15th of Khordad, 3rd of Khordad, and Talash. These are all locally made SAMs. The short-range SAM known as Mersad 16 was present too. The Mersad 16 is armed with missiles called “Shalamcheh” that are based on the US-made MIM-23 Hawk. Anti-aircraft artillery such as the twin barrel 35mm Oerlikon, copies of which are manufactured in Iran, were deployed as well. Drones and at least one type of loitering munition were flown at Velayat Skies.

If the Aras 2 now performs an air defense role as the “Majid” its armament is likely for eliminating low-flying aircraft that are targeted using a pair of EO/IR cameras on a pivoting mast. How this Aras 2 variant integrates with the command and control for a regional air defense network requires further analysis. Iran’s air defense branch possess multiple short-range SAMs besides their vast selection of anti-aircraft artillery. This makes the air defense system on the Aras 2 appear redundant. But if its role is taking down UAVs and loitering munitions it could be effective since older air defense systems, usually of Soviet origin, struggle at the task. A short-range SAM on a smaller vehicle is just as useful closing the “gaps” in a layered defense network where medium-range SAMs predominate.

The number of short-range air defenses operated by Iran’s armed forces borders on the ridiculous. To think older short-range SAMs delivered in the 1970s like the British-made Rapier and the US-made MIM-23 Hawk are still in service. (Along with thousands of anti-aircraft guns.) An unwavering drive for self-sufficiency led to state-owned factories manufacturing at least three variants of MANPADS based on Chinese models called “Misagh” and footage has emerged of the Aras 2 mounting a quad launcher armed with Misaghs. When it comes to mobile short-range SAMs, besides the aforementioned Mersad 16 there’s the Ya Zahra, which is based on the Chinese HQ-7 and the French Crotale. The Mersad 16 and the Ya Zahra are joined by the “Dezful,” a road mobile SAM that incorporates the vertical launcher of the Russian Tor-M1, whose first known appearance was at Velayat Skies. The existence of a naval AIM-9 Sidewinder variant defies categorization. They are now joined by this Aras 2 and its missile launcher. Although the exercises lasted a few days in the second week of October the technology involved was diverse and surprising. No other Middle Eastern country boasts an air defense network of the same scale.

In a region where armed pickup trucks are commonplace the Aras 2 surpasses well-known and even superior models when it comes to the weaponry it mounts. Here’s a partial list of them:

Aras 214.5mm heavy machine gun
7.62mm gatling gun
14.5mm machine gun/40mm auto grenade launch
81mm mortar
81mm auto mortar
120mm mortar
107mm rocket artillery (12 tubes)
122mm rocket artillery (8 tubes)
333mm rocket artillery (2 tubes)
Dehlavieh ATGM (4 missiles)
“Majid” SR-SAM (4 missiles)
Misagh SR-SAM (4 missiles)
loitering munition

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