Iran Is Building Air Defenses Against Stealth Aircraft
The repeated use of same or similar designations for different radar and missile systems has created the impression that Iranian air-defense development is a chaotic mess.
In fact, projects are proceeding along four main lines.
- The overhaul and upgrade of MIM-23B I-HAWK, S-200/SA-5, SA-6, SA-11 and SA-17.
- The development of advanced variants of some of the older systems, including the MIM-23B I-HAWK/Mersad and S-200/Sayyad-2.
- The invention of new, stand-alone systems such as the Talash, itself a further development of the S-200/Sayyad-2 combination.
- And, finally, the integration of all old and new systems.
The Hafez fire-control radar of the Talash-3 missile system. Roohollah Vahdati photo
Four main families of systems benefit from the heaviest investment.
- Sagheb Thagheb. A licensed version of the Chinese HQ-7 surface-to-air missile plus its Ya-Zahra-1/2/3, Talash-1 and Herz-9 variants.
- Shahin. The locally-manufactured copy of the American MIM-23B I-HAWK system. Iranian variants include the Shalamcheh, Ghader Mersad and Hafez.
- Sayyad-1. A licensed Chinese HQ-2 missile, which Tehran has further developed into the Sayyad-1A by adding an infrared seeker, and then into the Mehrab — incorporating elements of the American RIM-66B — and its follow-up variants Sayyad-2, Sayyad-2M, Sayyad-3 and Sayyad-4.
- Taer-1/Ra’ad-1, a wheeled variant of the Russian SA-6 that Iran developed with Chinese help, plus the Taer-2A and Taer-2B wheeled SA-17 launchers and the Sadid-630, long-range variant of the Taer-2B.
The original Talash was a particularly interesting system, as it was essentially a combination of the Soviet-made S-200/SA-5 Gammon and overhauled, U.S.-made RIM-66B Standard missiles, a.k.a. the Sayyad-2.
However, by 2014, an entirely new configuration — the Talash-3 — appeared that shared very few similarities with its Soviet and Russian origins.
Surprisingly enough, this included an entirely new electronically-scanned-array surveillance radar designated Qadir, a new fire-control radar with the designation Hafez, an entirely new command post and a launcher with four containers for Sayyad-2 missiles.
By late 2017, enough equipment for at least two Talash-3 sites is known to have been delivered. Considering the apparent dependence of the Talash-3 upon 40-year-old missiles of U.S. origin, it’s possible that no more will be forthcoming.
Around the same time, the Iranians introduced into service their entirely new Identification Friend or Foe radio-transponder system, which was necessary because existing U.S.- and Russian-designed IFF systems were compromised — and because Iran needed an IFF that would be compatible with newly-designed air-defense gear.
At top — the test-firing of a Sayyad-2 missile. Hossein Heidarpour photo. Above — visual comparison between a red Sayyad-3 missile and a Sayyad-4. Although resembling the U.S.-designed RIM-66B Standard, both are actually of new design. Photo via ACIG
Outmatching the S-300?
The emergence of the Talash-3 represented the next step in the development of the Iranian air defenses — an entirely new, long-range SAM system that would offer a working alternative in the case Moscow never delivered the S-300s it had promised.
This alternative to the S-300 fell under a program with the Iranian designation Bavar-373.
The history of Bavar-373 can be traced back to September 2011, when – citing Iran’s “scientific and technological progress” and the cooperation between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Khatam Al Anbia Air Defense Command, local industry and academic centers – Tehran’s propaganda machine announced the development of an indigenous alternative to the S-300 system.
Service-entry for the Bavar-373 was originally slated for 2016. In 2017, it was obvious that the Bavar-373 had fallen behind schedule. Nevertheless, its most important components began emerging in 2014.
They include no fewer than three entirely different radar systems – including a new fire-control radar designated Meraj-4 – plus Sayyad-4 missiles of a new design.
Launch containers for the Sayyad-4 missiles of the Bavar-373 SAM system. Photo via ACIG
Reportedly based on the Hafez radar developed for the Talash-3, the Meraj is a very interesting piece of machinery. In contrast to the horn-fed passive electronically-scanned arrays of the Russian S-300 and S-400 and the U.S.-made MIM-104 Patriot – all of which depend on the brute force of their electromagnetic output – the Meraj-4 boasts direct-fed solid-state modules.
At least as interesting are the launch containers for the Sayyad-4 missiles which, although still generally similar to the RIM-66B, were completely re-designed and could now be manufactured in Iran.
The Iranians opted for U.S.-style “hot” containers instead of Russian-style “cold” containers that eject missiles with help of pressurized air before their motors ignite.
All the components of the Bavar-373 system are installed on Zafar eight-by-eight and Zoljanah 10-by-10 trucks — and are thus mobile, too.
It’s becoming clear what are the Iranians actually doing — namely, building diverse, redundant air defenses against stealth aircraft and missiles.