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Iran - Air Defenses

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.

There is no dispositive source of information on Iranian air defense deployment. Key SAM-defended areas include Tehran and centers involved in nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. Iran appeared to have deployed the SA-5 batteries to defend Tehran, major ports, and oil facilities, providing long-range medium-to-high altitude coverage of vital coastal installations. The I-HAWK and SA-2 batteries were reportedly located around Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Bandar Abbas, Kharg Island, Bushehr, Bandar Khomeini, Ahwaz, Dezful, Kermanshah, Hamadan, and Tabriz, providing point defense for key bases and facilities. Some of these sites lack sufficient missile launchers to be fully effective. Some have been bolstered by the addition of radar-guided anti-aircraft artillery, including Sky Guard systems purchased from Italy during the mid-1980s.

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 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.

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