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Iran - Air Defense - Modernization

Major General Mohammad Bagheri at an exhibition of Iranian air defence said 02 September 2017 that the United States or any force in the world cannot attack Iran militarily. He also added that "if the forces of “arrogance” take the decision to start the war against Iran, the decision to end the war will not be with the attacker", because the attackers will certainly lose the battle. Bagheri stated that the development of surface-to-air missile systems is currently a priority of the Iranian armed forces because of the threats facing Iran, stressing that these missiles are defensive and not offensive. He also said that through developing missiles in Iran we can target any side that wants to oppose Iran because the threat of ground war against Iran is zero, but we cannot deny the existence of a threat of air and sea war against Iran. Bagheri continued to add that the Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei has given particular attention to air defence and calls for more investment in this unit from the armed forces of Iran.

In July 1972 the Imperial Iranian Air Force signed a foreign military sales (FMS) case for 24 batteries of Improved HAWK materiel totaling nearly $280 million, one of the largest sales of missile materiel that MICOM had ever negotiated with a foreign country. A ten-man Iranian Air Force fact-finding team visited U.S. government and contractor facilities in October 1979 to determine the status of the Iranian Improved HAWK program. The Iranian team asked for recommendations on reestablishing their air defense capabilities, which the Army planned to present to the Iranian Air Force's Chief of Staff.

On 04 November 1979, after Iranian revolutionaries seized the US Embassy in Teheran and took the occupants hostage on this date, the U.S. Department of State formally directed the suspension of the Iranian HAWK FMS program. MICOM had no further communications with the Iranian Air Force. Iran lacked the repair parts to keep its Hawk missile systems working. The Iranian equipment being held in the United States was placed in segregated storage in U.S. Army depots, and all contracts pertaining to the program were terminated. A legal decision that the equipment was Iranian owned and should not be diverted stopped attempts to use these assets to satisfy other customer requirements.

As of 1996 Iranian Air Defense forces included about 18,000 military personnel. The tradition of aircraft-based air defense, derived from the US-trained Air Force from before the 1978-79 revolution, was giving way to a expanding arsenal of ground-based air defense missile systems. Still, Iran was at the time unable to construct a nationwide, integrated air defense network, and continued to rely on point defense of key locations with surface-to-air missile batteries.

The bulk of Iran's Air Force Air Defense holdings by the mid-1990s revolved around 30 Improved HAWK fire units (12 battalions/150+ launchers), 45-60 SA-2 and HQ-2J/23 (CSA-1 Chinese equivalents of the SA-2) launchers. Also available were some 30 Rapier and 15 Tigercat SAM launchers. There are reports of the transfer of eight SA-6 launchers to Iran from Russia in 1995/1996. In January 1996 US Navy Vice Admiral Scott Redd said had recently added Russian-built SA-6 missile defense systems. Iran never publically displayed any evidence to this claim and with the general Iranian policy of doing so to prove strength it would suggest that these reports were unfounded. The Iranian Army also had a number of SA-7 MANPADS and claimed to retain a large number of its arsenal of Swedish RBS-70 SAMs, purchased from Sweden in 1985.

In 1997 the Iranian Air Defense forces declared the Almaz S-200 Angara (SA-5 'Gammon') low-to high-altitude surface-to-air missile (SAM) operational. The missile has a comparatively modest acceleration rate, and relies on its small wings for maneuverability. Furthermore, the mechanically steered radars used by the SA-5 are vulnerable to saturation by decoys. Sources disagree on the number deployed, with some claiming four batteries, while others claim ten. Another source reports that the Air Force had three Soviet-made long-range SA-5 units, with a total of 10-15 launchers, enough for six sites. Iran reportedly recieved two complete systems (with an unknown number of launchers) and 25 missiles for Russia just prior to the break-up of the USSR in 1991, and at least another 10 missiles from Ukraine in 1992-1993. Some of these missiles were publically displayed in subsequent Iranian military parades.

Russia and Iran quickly came to enjoy a close military sales relationship, and took steps for the Russians to sell modernized air defense systems to Iran. In February 2001 a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry stated that "Iran hopes for ongoing military-technical cooperation with Russia. Our country plans to modernize Iranian Air Defense and it will ask Russia to sell some air defense systems in support of that."

In December 2005 Iran entered into a contract to purchase 29 TOR-M1 (SA-15 Gauntlet) mobile surface-to-air missile defence systems from Russia worth more than USD 700 million (EUR 600 million). The TOR-M1 is a mobile system designed for operation at medium- and low-altitude levels against aircraft and guided missiles. Each unit consists of a vehicle armed with eight missiles and a radar that can track 48 targets and engage two simultaneously. The TOR-M1 systems have medium-range capabilities for intercepting planes and missiles and are not designed for ground operations. The systems and missiles were delivered between 2006 and 2007. Reports suggested that these systems were specifically acquired for point defense around Iran's nuclear facilities.

Between 1998 and 2002 Iran imported approximately 6 JY-14 surveillance radars from the China National Electronics Import-Export Corporation. The radar can detect targets up to 300 km away and is now part of Iran's air defense system. Even with China's help, Iran's air defenses remained porous through to 2008, perhaps on par with Iraqi capabilities demonstrated in the 1991 Gulf war. The launchers appeared to be scattered too widely to prevent relatively rapid suppression. Iran also lacked the low altitude radar coverage, overlapping radar network, command and control integration, sensors, and resistance to jamming and electronic countermeasures needed for an effective air defense net. Iran therefore continued to subscribe to the point defense mode, looking to protect key installations and avoid repeating scenarios similar to those that occured during the Iran-Iraq War where Iraqi aircraft succeeded in numerous occasions in targeting key economic facilities.

On Jan. 9, 2013, British businessman Christopher Tappin was sentenced in the Western District of Texas to serve 33 months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of $11,357 for aiding and abetting the illegal export of defense articles in connection with his efforts to export to Iran special components of the Hawk Air Defense Missile. Tappin pleaded guilty on Nov. 1, 2012, admitting that from December 2005 to January 2007, he aided and abetted others, including his Cyprus-based business associate Robert Gibson, and Robert Caldwell, of Portland, Ore., in an attempt to export Zinc/Silver Oxide Reserve Batteries to Iran. These particular batteries, a special component of the Hawk Air Defense Missile, are on the U.S. Munitions List and require a license for export from the United States. Tappin was first charged in a federal indictment on Feb. 7, 2007. He was extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States for prosecution on Feb. 24, 2012. On Nov. 9, 2007, his co-defendant Robert Caldwell was sentenced in the Western District of Texas to 20 months in prison for his role in the scheme. Robert Gibson was sentenced on Aug. 24, 2007 to a two-year prison term for his role in the scheme.




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Page last modified: 09-07-2019 17:53:51 ZULU