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Iran Has Four New Air Defense Weapons

December 5, 2021
The Joshan medium-range SAM that participated in “Defenders of the Velayat Skies 1400.” Via Iranian media.

The Islamic Republic has surpassed its neighbors when it comes to developing anti-aircraft missiles. When compared to Israel’s formidable military-industrial sector Iran’s state-owned manufacturers have produced more SAMs than what a normal army can reasonably maintain. This was evident during the “Defenders of the Velayat Skies 1400” exercise that took place in mid-October. The three or four-day event was supposed to test the interoperability of the military’s various air defense branches but also served as an advertisement for its new weapons.

Glowing Iranian media coverage of “Velayat Skies 1400” did highlight the air defense systems involved, especially medium and long-range radars, but there are still gaps in the official record. As far as can be ascertained at least eight models of road mobile SAMs were used–all locally made. Absent were Iran’s other air defense weaponry such as the Chinese-made HQ-2 or the Russian-made S-300PMU2. The SAMs at “Velayat Skies 1400” included the long-range Bavar-373 and the medium-range Joshan (pictured above),15th of Khordad, 3rd of Khordad, Tabas, and Mersad-16. Short-range SAMs at the exercises were the Dezful and the Majid. Another road mobile SAM eluded classification although footage of it was shared by Iranian media. This was later identified as the “Zubin” and is a 6×6 truck carrying a vertical launch system (VLS) and a control station on its bed. Anti-aircraft artillery and locally made radars were tested at the exercises as well.

Most of the road mobile SAMs at “Velayat Skies 1400” are known but four models appeared that haven’t been seen before: the Joshan, the Dezful, the Majid, and the Zubin VLS missile launcher. The Joshan and the 15th of Khordad–also known as Khordad-15–resemble each other and have transporters based on repurposed commercial trucks. Apparently the Joshan features a redesigned bed supporting launcher but still carries the same four box containers for Sayyad-2 missiles. The crucial difference between the Joshan and the 15th of Khordad/Khordad-15 are the radars they are networked with.

Even more surprising was the Dezful short-range SAM that installed the turret of a Russian-made Tor-M1 on a commercial truck modified and repainted as an integrated transporter. Why the air defense branches that participated at “Velayat Skies 1400” adopted this weapon system is difficult to explain; the IRGC and the regular armed forces have ample stocks of short-range SAMs anyway. A probable reason is the Dezful complements the existing Tor-M1’s supplied by Russia and together they seal the gaps in protecting sensitive locations from cruise missiles and drones. “Velayat Skies 1400” did take place in the barren plains of central Iran where Azerbaijan’s drones–acquired from Israel and Turkey–can evade detection and compromise local airspace near Tehran. Although ties with Azerbaijan have been mended the oil-rich neighbor is deemed a potential adversary because of its alliances with Israel and Turkey.

The idea that “Velayat Skies 1400” was meant to unify the air defense branches during a war scenario against a neighbor bears enough credibility with the addition of the Majid short-range SAM. This nimble missile launcher combines four missiles, an EO/IR camera, and the Aras 2 pickup truck to secure areas no greater than eight kilometers in circumference. When used together with specialist troops armed with MANPADS, batteries of anti-aircraft artillery, the Dezful SAM, the Mersad-16 SAM, and the 3rd of Khordad/Khordad-3 it looks as if defeating low-flying drones and standoff munitions are serious eventualities if war breaks out along Iran’s northern border. Once again, this scenario points to a threat looming from Azerbaijan whose air force does possess Turkish-made SOM cruise missiles and other standoff munitions. Azerbaijan’s inventory of drones such as the Israeli-made Harop (a loitering munition) and the Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 can’t be dismissed as they’ve proven effective in a full-scale conventional war. Baku’s collection of ballistic missiles and rocket artillery are just as threatening.

Disregarding the nature of Iran’s relationship with Azerbaijan the exercise in mid-October illustrated how deep Iran’s military have committed themselves to a bewildering strategy for protecting national airspace. Where other countries struggle just to acquire a modest air defense capability Iran is supplying the IRGC and the regular armed forces with an arsenal that looks robust enough for withstanding an air campaign on the scale witnessed in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 or Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 or a concerted attack on multiple locations by a determined rival. This may explain the mysterious Zubin SAM on a VLS carried by a large transporter at “Velayat Skies 1400.” Only a single vehicle was caught by the available footage taken by Iranian media and its layout invited comparisons with a road mobile variant of Israel’s Iron Dome and the Chinese FM-3000. The search and track radar on this mysterious SAM could mean it’s another short-range air defense system but its ultimate role in a vast network is hard to pin down.

The evidence is unassailable. Iran’s military-industrial sector rolled out four different road mobile SAMs in less than two years amid a relentless economic and financial embargo. It’s a startling achievement.

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