Skip to content

Ansar Allah Have A Low Cost Anti-Aircraft Missile

March 24, 2023

There has been a surge of weapons manufacturing in the Middle East and North Africa during the previous decade. Almost none of the resulting systems are innovative and are often repurposed or updated technology originating from the Cold War. But the conflict in Yemen that began in 2015 and has now ended thanks to a diplomatic breakthrough involving Iran and Saudi Arabia has seen an unexpected level of homegrown weapons manufacturing, even if these are limited to assembly. A large parade held in the capital Sana’a, which is controlled by Ansar Allah, during the final weeks of the 2022 ceasefire was a surprising showcase for rockets and missiles. How Iran managed to deliver so many airframes and guidance systems for strategic missiles boggles the mind. The same conundrum clouds the existence of the Miraj surface-to-air missile. (Pictured above.)

Ansar Allah’s military have a broad, if outdated, selection of anti-aircraft weapons. Its longest ranged missiles are the S-75 (SA-2) and 2K12 (SA-6) and there are a multitude of older R-27 air-to-air missiles adapted for the surface-to-air role. A few Strela-10’s (SA-13) have survived as well. But in late September 2022 a military parade in Sana’a featured the Miraj transported in two variants: it’s either loaded in pairs inside cylindrical launchers on a 6×6 truck or loaded in threes on a static launcher. The Miraj system isn’t integrated with a specific vehicular transport, which is odd since Ansar Allah have a large enough motor pool to draw from, although it looks like a Soviet/Russian Ural truck carries its cylindrical launchers but its appearance defies easy categorization. Each Miraj missile resembles Iranian Fajr-4 or Fajr-5 rockets supplied to Ansar Allah that have different warhead types. A standout are Fajr-4 rockets adapted for coastal defense with optoelectronic guidance systems (likely radar homing) fitted on them. The Miraj SAM in particular looks like a set of modified large diameter Fajr rockets but with infrared seekers, their glass eyes have a similar appearance to those found on heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, and this can explain their role.

There are odd details about the Miraj system that highlight the resource scarcity Ansar Allah must contend with in their weapons manufacturing. At the 2022 parade the static Miraj launcher was paired with a control station mounting a Soviet vintage Tobol or 1RL33M1 short-range radar. This is a subsystem integrated on the turret of the ZSU-23-4 self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. There should be a few surviving ZSU-23-4’s in Yemen today but these have avoided identification. The problem with the 1RL33M1 is, depending on the open sources consulted, its coverage is either 20 kilometers or 30 km. When employed on the ZSU-23-4 the complete system is most effective at low altitudes and just 2,000 meters (2 km) if the guns are utilized for direct fire. The Miraj, on the other hand, since it’s based on the Fajr-4/5 can fly as far as 70 km in a surface-to-surface role. As a surface-to-air missile, however, it could have just medium-range reaching altitudes between 15,000 to 30,000 feet. Whether or not Ansar Allah have ultra high frequency radars in their possession is unclear but if Iran is ready to deliver these, or perhaps arrange for North Korea or Syria to do the same, this could represent a serious enhancement for Yemen’s air defenses.

Iran has attempted sending its own surface-to-air missiles to Yemen in previous years, with questionable success. There are now at least 14 different anti-aircraft missile launchers produced by Iran including the theater-level Bavar-373 that is comparable with the S-300 or the HQ-9BE. None have appeared in Ansar Allah’s possession yet although if a joint development program is arranged an Iranian-made missile launcher and its subsystems can be fitted on a commercial truck available in Yemen, resulting in a cost-effective air defense weapon. A serious technical gap Ansar Allah faces if it tries and develops an indigenous anti-aircraft missile is the availability of metal forming expertise (to assemble the missile’s airframe) and global suppliers who will deliver the needed microelectronics and dual use computer parts. This entire process becomes easier with Iran’s support but there’s no evidence such a project is underway. With the Miraj, Ansar Allah’s air defense units at least have a cost-effective missile, there’s also the likelihood dozens if not hundreds are now operational.

Comments are closed.