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Iran Cannot Stop Making Anti-Aircraft Weapons

November 2, 2022

Four countries are now producing too many anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses: China, India, Iran, and Russia. Of the four Iran is the most persistent in its goal to attain self-sufficiency with multilayered systems. This means it can still rely on some imported parts but the completed weapons are made at home. During the 2010s—a single decade—the IRGC and the regular armed forces embraced as many as 15 new anti-aircraft weapons, nearly all of them are road mobile SAMs. But in late August this year an outdoor exhibition to showcase recent achievements of the military-industrial sector featured a new anti-aircraft system. (Pictured above.) This time it combined the local variety of Sidewinder missiles with a rotary cannon.

Iranian media identified it as the “Qasem” an obvious homage to the late IRGC-Quds Force leader killed by a US airstrike in Iraq. This shouldn’t be confused with another novelty—this time a ballistic missile—unveiled in 2020 as the “Haj Qasem” that could reach targets beyond a thousand kilometers away. But this Qasem is far from innovative; it’s a clear attempt to improve on the assortment of towed and mobile anti-aircraft artillery the armed forces have collected in the past 60 years, dating back to the late Pahlavi era. (This includes Soviet vintage ZSU-23-2, the S-60, the KS-19, and the AK-630—to name a few models reproduced by Iranian factories.)

Since the 2000s rotary cannons with high rates of fire have preoccupied the Defense Industries Organization (DIO), the vast state-owned conglomerate responsible for equipping the ground forces, and these are often featured at exhibitions whether in smaller calibers or larger ones; the naval AK-630 is an six-barrel weapon chambered for 30mm rounds and its Iranian analog was at the same exhibition as the Qasem. As for the Qasem it appears the US-made Vulcan cannon on the M167 VADS was repurposed for an alternate towed carriage but it’s now combined in a turret with a pair of Sidewinders. (The magazine for the cannon is the drum installed above it.) The US-made AIM-9X Block II, when it’s converted to the SAM role, is suited for the NASAMS and other launch systems. The Iranian take on the Sidewinder appears to be a direct copy of the AIM-9B from more than half-a-century ago. The choice of armaments on the Qasem makes it suited for defending sensitive locations from aerial threats, especially when coordinated with other anti-aircraft artillery such as the ZSU-23-2 and the Oerlikon—both are reproduced in Iran along with their ammunition.

The intriguing part about the Qasem is how it’s networked with other units to form layered defenses. There’s little to go on here except that Iran’s military-industrial sector is invested in producing radars locally at the same scale as anti-aircraft weapons. The carriage of this air defense system, by the way, is based on the same one as the Oerlikon, which is a very popular towed anti-aircraft weapon in the Middle East, and the DIO has experimented with the Oerlikon before. At its public outing in August there was a separate monopulse doppler radar that may or not be paired with the Qasem set up next to it. Whether or not the Qasem is meant to be rolled out in large numbers can’t be ascertained but the DIO maintains active production lines for many different anti-aircraft systems. The Qasem’s prospects as an export are easier to judge: the DIO and the defense ministry have gone all out in showing off military products in different venues abroad. The Iranian Sidewinder itself is export approved in either air-to-air or surface-to-air variants.

The Iranian military-industrial sector’s constant dabbling in anti-aircraft systems is now so unpredictable it’s not clear if the Qasem will soon evolve into something else. The choice of a towed carriage or trailer is rather strange since there have been enough successful adaptations for anti-aircraft artillery on a large vehicle. In fact, it’s possible to mount this whole thing on the bed of a pickup truck.

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