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Iranian Air Defense Technology Is Extremely Advanced

December 11, 2021
The new vertical launch-based mobile SAM at Defenders of the Velayat Skies 1400. Via Iranian media.

In the course of a decade the Islamic Republic assembled multiple air defense systems and introduced them to its various military branches at a remarkable pace. Although the adoption and reverse engineering of foreign technology was critical the apparent trend is Iran has become almost fully self-sufficient in mass-producing anti-aircraft weapons and their related equipment. This was the focal point for the Defenders of the Velayat Skies 1400 exercises in mid-October when the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), the air defense branch, along with the army and the air force got to use their SAMs in continuous live fire demonstrations.

Velayat Skies brought together nearly all of Iran’s domestically manufactured anti-aircraft artillery, drones, radars, and SAMs. At least four new missile launchers were introduced and conducted live fires; the medium-range Joshan that complements the 15th of Khordad/Khordad-15, the short-range Dezful, and the short-range Majid. Another SAM at Velayat Skies eluded further scrutiny although low resolution footage of it was shared by Iranian media. The unexpected appearance of this SAM that was later identified as the “Zubin” inspired comparisons with the Israeli-made Iron Dome air defense system, which is a static launcher deployed in batteries for neutralizing various projectiles.

It’s possible to mount the Iron Dome launcher on a wheeled transport and this is offered for export by its manufacturer Rafael. However, it’s important to observe the Iranian Zubin SAM at Velayat Skies only carried a single row of four containers. The Iron Dome has 20 containers on either of its mobile and static variants–the US Army is planning to field the Iron Dome for its short-range air defense requirements. Parallels to this Iranian SAM can be drawn with the Chinese-made FM-3000 SAM that was offered for export but had no takers. The FM-3000 utilized a 6×6 transporter with an elongated bed secured to the ground by hydraulic stabilizers. It carried eight containers for its vertically launched missiles that were similar to those used on the Russian Tor-M1/M2 SAM.

Besides the FM-3000 having rectangular missile containers positioned vertically when readied the same are found on the South African Umkhonto SAM manufactured by Denel. Originating as a naval air defense weapon the Umkhonto’s vertical launchers can be mounted on either a 6×6 or 8×8 truck along with a 3D acquisition radar. Denel claims the Umkhonto’s infrared missiles are programmed to engage as many as four targets at a time at medium ranges, with effective distances reaching 20,000 meters or 20 kilometers away at maximum altitudes of 26,000 feet. This means the Umkhonto is able to intercept and shoot down drones, helicopters, and many types of fixed wing aircraft.

The Iranian SAM that appeared at Velayat Skies had the vertical launchers, the search and track radar, and the control station all in a single vehicle. How it operates as part of a battery and their networking with regional command and control can’t be known at this point. Why Iran’s air defense units need another short to medium-range mobile SAM is perplexing given the successful adoption of the Mersad-16, Ya Zahra, 3rd of Khordad, 15th of Khordad, 9 Dey, Tabas, Talash, and Majid. But having many different weapon systems in service for the same role could suggest establishing maximum redundancy versus a persistent air campaign led by Israel or the US. The Iranian military are no doubt aware air campaigns led by Israel and the West in the Middle East are devastating. Historical lessons are abundant, from Operation Desert Storm to Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS and the Israeli air campaigns against Hezbollah in 2006 and persistent attacks on Syria since 2012.

The existence of this Zubin SAM reflects well on Iran’s military-industrial sector whose efforts aren’t always successful but can manage supplying the military’s needs at low cost. The vertical launchers and their missiles, along with a portable search and track radar, is indisputable proof Iranian aerospace engineering thrives under pressure. The success of the long-range Bavar-373 SAM and different radars exceeds even Turkey’s enthusiastic attempt at a domestic air defense arsenal. Among the Gulf states the UAE is alone in developing its anti-aircraft weapons and technology, with a short-range SAM now ready for use. Ultimately, Iran’s mass-production of air defense weapons are for anticipating attacks by cruise missiles, drones, loitering munitions and standoff munitions in a future conflict. This daunting scenario makes short and medium-range SAMs more viable.


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