Iran Claims It Has Obtained S-300 Air Defense Missile System

Iran’s Fars news agency, which is described as a semiofficial new agency (I guess that means they speak for the Iranian government, except when they don’t), says Iran has obtained four S-300 surface-to-air missiles from Belarus and some other unidentified supplier. I’m assuming the report means four S-300 systems, and not just missiles; the system includes the launcher and tracking and targeting radars.

Israel has long suggested that Iran’s acquisition of the S-300 would constitute a red-line that would compel Israel to launch an air attack. Steven Simon of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a brief back in November that S-300 deliveries to Iran would almost guarantee Israeli air strikes.

As Simon and other analysts note, Iran’s current air defense system is so weak and the S-300 is considered so good that if the system became operational it would greatly raise the costs of any Israeli strike. Most of Iran’s SAM systems are leftovers from the Shah days, such as their large inventory of U.S. built Improved Hawk, a medium range, mobile SAM system, that was delivered in the late 1970s.

What’s missing from Iranian air defenses is a modern, long-range SAM. That’s where the S-300 comes in. Iran announced in December 2007 that it had contracted to buy an unspecified number of the systems from Russia. The high-altitude, long-range S-300 is considered by some accounts to be comparable to the U.S. built Patriot air defense missile.

Israel views the S-300 as such a threat that in early June 2009, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, went to Moscow to convince Russia to halt the sale. In June, Russia said it would abide by UN Security Council sanctions against Iran and would not deliver the missiles; but the Russian Foreign Ministry then said the sale was still possible.

Earlier this spring, we posted photos of an Iranian military parade that featured a clearly not real mock-up of an S-300 launcher.

— Greg Grant

  • Drake1

    No more oil drums? I’m highly skeptical of these claims.

    • It could actually just be four missiles that they bought under the table to try and reverse engineer. Still without the radars and tracking computers this doesn’t seem much of a threat.

    • Bret

      I am also trying to decide if this is legitimate or not. Any more news on this?

      • Mike G.

        Not that I’ve seen. The wiki says they are SA-10s but the news story they link back to just says S-300 and is light on details. We probably won’t know for a bit, it’s just an AP blurb right now, none of the major networks have picked it up. It might get some mention what with the possible attempt on Ahmadinejad’s life.

  • chaos0xomega

    Well… I guess now we wait for the Israeli’s to make their move…

    …it’s been a pleasure, gentlemen…

  • Nidi

    Perhaps the sniper attack on the Israelis the other day was instigated by Iran, in order to drum up international opposition to Israel by causing another incident in an attemp to prevent them from conducting an air strike?

  • Dave M.

    And just how accurate/successful are these missiles? If they only have four it seems simple enough to get them to waste them all on decoys or whatever.

  • Maxtrue

    Well, what if Israel already knows how to thwart these missiles? Pretty shrewd. Metamaterials and Israeli nanotechnology are making great strides….

    • Less Michael Crichton, more Tom Clancy. Why would Israel be upset about the purchase if they could readily defeat it? Iran would be spending ineffective dollars..

      • Maxtrue

        Can’t you figure that out? I’m sure the US military would love to have adversaries spend the time and money fielding systems they can defeat. Or can you suggest a better tactic?

        • Right. So if I’m understanding this correctly, Israel sucked the U.S. into attempting to block a weapons sale because they have SAM-defeating nanotechnology and smart materials.

          Annnnd DefenseTech’s march towards institutionalized lunacy continues..

  • John Moore

    Can the US block “U.S. built Improved Hawk” from working if needed? Or provide Isreal with the means to do so?

    I hipe they wouldn’t do that else everyone eles would stop buying US made gear just a ? tx

    • Guest

      It didn’t stop people from buying from France after the Falklands, when they gave (under duress) Britain the Exocet codes.

      • Wildcard

        France sold no more Exocets to the Argentineans after the NATO / Common Market embargo. SIS agents were dispatched to act as purchasers on the international market and were authorised to outbid the Argentineans, other agents were to render any Exocets they could not acquire inoperable (WTF is an Exocet code?).
        France did however send a team of Dassault Technicians to help the Argentine Navy introduce the 5 Etendards and 5 Exocets… one of which hit HMS Sheffield.

    • The Hawk has been in Iran for a very long time, and as their primary surface-to-air system. I would be shocked if it hasn’t been modified to high heaven.

    • joe

      30 year old I-Hawk without OEM parts support—I doubt if very many still work.

      • Agreed, I believe Raytheon recently have been during refurbs on Saudi Hawks as they had degraded over the years. Think of computers from the seventies… How long does your current computer stay functional? Try that with 70’s tech.

        • joe

          Actually it was 50s tech built in the 70s.

  • William C.

    Only the later S-300 variants would pose any serious threat to the Israeli Air Force. The question is however if these are older models (NATO designation SA-10) or newer models (SA-20)?

    The SA-20, SA-21 (S-400), and SA-23 are the long range Russian SAMs that get people worried, but Israel and the United States are always working on improving their ECM equipment. Lets hope it works if Israel does have to strike Iranian targets.

    • Bob

      Why are you sure that the U.S. is working to improve ECM against Russian SAMs? The Russians are our friends, we hit the reset button with Russia. We have all sorts of new treaties with them. If thats the case, why would a cash strapped DOD spend the $$$ upgrading ECM capabilites?

  • Logan

    This might be a compromise on Russia’s part. Belarus isn’t some little rogue ex-USSR CIS state like Georgia that does what it wants to spite Russia. It’s heavily reliant on Russia and it has probably the best relations with Russia of any state. I highly doubt that Belarus would have sold Iran S-300s if Russia didn’t want Iran to have them. It’s akin to Canada selling surplus CF-118s to Venezuela. It isn’t going to happen without the US okaying it.

    I think this is just a sly way for Russia to please the UN and avoid a bunch of negative press by not selling the missiles to Iran, while still getting the capital from the sale and boosting Iran’s security, which hurts the US and Israel. The only negative press is going to come down on Belarus. US relations with Belarus have been in the pits since 2008 anyway, so there’s no harm done there.
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C

    It doesn’t affect Belarus since the only foreign relations they really care about anyway are those that it has with Russia, which are just peachy. All the more reason I think it unlikely that they did this without Russia’s blessing. I doubt it was even Belarus’ idea.

    This really is a win-win for Russia.

    • Alex D.

      You nailed it. Oblahblah got tricked by the sneaky Russians again.

    • Bret

      I am impressed with this comment. Belarus has been sitting in the back of my mind, but they still are an important player in global affairs. As you mentioned, they are like Russia’s puppet.

      I think this move is more big picture IR stuff rather than specific security affairs. Russia won’t have issues selling their S-300 (they’re already talking to other customers). In this instance, it was mainly a political move rather than military.

    • J Weich

      Actually Belarus and Russia have recently had a major falling out. To the extent of Belarus making friends with Georgia, solely to piss Russia off.

  • Mike G.

    Even the SA-10 is a pretty nasty piece of work. I wouldn’t want to go up against it were I an Israeli pilot.

    As for ECM, both the SA-10 and SA-20 have a home on jam capability, so active ECM is going to be a dicey proposition. How’s IAF’s passive ECM capability looking these days?

    • Andres

      you boys forgot the air to ground missiles that both usaf and isaf has.

      • Mike G.

        You can launch cruise missiles if you know where they (the batteries) are, but the SA-10 and SA-20 can, at least theoretically, shoot them down because they are so slow. The Russians used to practice doing just that. The only other ‘AGM’ that I see in US inventory with the range to hit an SA-10/20 is the Harpoon, and only if launched from a ship. Everything else is sub 90NM.

        • Mike G.

          Hah, replying to myself. The Israelis claim the Delilah ARM has a range of about 120NM, so they could conceviably use that. That would put them well inside the SA-10’s reach. The SA-20/PMU-2 has a similar claimed range so it’d be a toss up.

          • William C.

            Remember, there is a big difference between effective and maximum range. Despite what marketing will say, Patriots or S-300s won’t be shooting down fighters at 200km.

            Shooting down a AARGM moving at mach 4 or stealthy JASSM is harder than it sounds. Modernized S-300s and the S-400 are indeed dangerous, but they aren’t quite the unbeatable air defense systems the Russians market them as.

          • Mike G.

            However, the same goes for effective and maximum ranges of AGMs.

          • Andres

            exactly my thoughts. Altough i see the biggest chance to get “through” for the JASSM especially the Extended Range version of it.

          • Andres

            forogot that: there are even more possibilities to knock out such an air defense layer -> stuff it with drones until it has no missiles left.

      • Enthusiast

        you bots forget that:

        – S-300 have counter-jamming capabilities
        – Anti-radar missiles could be fooled (Anti-HARM system were developed in Russia) or intercepted
        – Air defense force can use fake radar station or imitators to fool expensive HARM-type missiles

  • Oblat

    Greg’s memory is faulty – the parade had what was clearly a Chinese system on it.

    The delivery of the S300 should be welcomed by Americans. It will finally put an end to the relentless attempts by Israel to drag America into yet another bloody pointless war.

    • Mike G.

      That’s shockingly naive. You really think Israel bombing the crap out of Iran is going to make the US less involved in the region!?

    • David

      Oh please because the S 300 was so effective at deterring the Israelis from attacking syria’s nuke sites.

      Russian stuff is junk. With exception to the AK 47 of course.

      • Benjamin

        Syria as far as know does not have an S-300 system. Where did you get the info?

        • Maxtrue

          Israel got past Tor 1, though Russia has promised Syria the S-300.

          • Enthusiast

            Syrya never had Tor1 SAM.

            Some Israeli paper claimed that “Israel jammed Russian Pantsyr-S1 system in Syria”. It’s journalist BS. They “just forget” that Syria isn’t even received and deployed these SAM!
            Don’t trust yellow press!

  • Scott

    You assume that the S-300 will perform as advertised in a real combat environment against a serious opponent. If it does, then the Russions do indeed benefit. If it does NOT, however, the Russions lose big time. Certainly the Israelis (and likely the US as well) will have to deal with some fallout (hopefully, only the figurative variety), but the Russian arms industry (which is a big source of foreign revenue) will take a serious hit. Air defense systems are high-dollar products where the Russians have (at least right now) a solid enough reputation, but if the Israelis and/or the US walks through them, the possibility of a lot of Russian customers having second thoughts about potential purchases would be a Very.Bad.Thing.Indeed.

    • Logan

      It doesn’t have to perform well. All it has to do is give the US a couple of sleepless nights and Russia wins. In fact, the point isn’t about its performance in combat. The USSR & Russia have long pointed to user error as an excuse for poor equipment performance–often for good reason. That’s exactly what they’d do in this case, too. The MiG-21 still sold just fine after 1967 and the T-72 still sold just fine after 1991.

      Where Russia really wins here, though, is in international relations. By selling the S-300 to Iran, they may be trying to force Israel’s hand, actually inciting it to attack Iran. Contrary to popular belief, that’s not what the US wants as it would light the powder keg that is the Middle East. The US isn’t totally against the idea of striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, but it wants to call the shots, saying if, where, and when. If Russia forces Israel to attack at a time when the US doesn’t want it to, it drives a wedge between the US and its most powerful ally in the Middle East, at least temporarily. Even more importantly, an Israeli strike on Iran would turn popular opinion in the Islamic world against the US, regardless of whether the US had approved the attack or not.

      Really, if the S-300 causes Israel or the US not to attack, Russia wins and the US loses. If the S-300 causes Israel or the US to attack, Russia wins and the US loses. The catch here is that Russia couldn’t sell the S-300 to Iran without a lot of negative press from the Western world, with the possibility of UN condemnation, as well. That isn’t worth it. This allows Russia to get the S-300 to Iran without being the ones to actually sell it to them.

  • Yamash$ta

    The sa-20 sale is sideshow and gamesmanship. The same way the sale of a nuclear Iran as a threat to Israel (absurd, since the Persians, smart folks they, realize the only value of nukes is in deterrence) is public relations for all of us.

    Zionist Israel, and the power mad Old Testament zealots who run it, will not tolerate and cannot stand any state that even countenances resistance to its empire. Thus the bluster of schmucks like Bibi and the blackmail of America and its feckless political class.

    • JSCS

      Empire? The Israelis have colonies?

  • Maxtrue

    Are you back again. Better be careful, the CDC may decide to quarantine you for your severe IDS. Bitter is better eh? How about an apology for your false comments regarding the murder in the DMZ? I guess those Hizb’Allah journalist got more than a ring side seat.

    Yeah those Persians are smart folks. Ban music, claim promiscuity causes earthquakes. Perhaps you would fit right in………

    • William C.

      Israel Derangement Syndrome?

      • Maxtrue

        Yes…

  • Senor Hapscomb

    Umm, 45% of conservatives believe Sarah Palin is fit to serve in the Oval Office, but that doesn’t mean that all of America is functionally retarded, as well. I’m sure your pronouncements on what the average Iranian is like is founded on personal experience and unbiased research, right? Or maybe you’re just a hayseed…

    • Maxtrue

      Who said I was talking about the Iranian people? The crew that plots strategic concepts like deterrence, are the same bright lights that advocate the ideas I mentioned as well as supporting terror.

  • STemplar

    I’m not sure what announcing this does for the Iranians. Calling the bluff seems to run contrary to the stance they are currently taking in regards to now wanting to sit down and talk (again). I wonder if there aren’t elements within Iran trying to pressure the hard liners into real talk by pushing the military option up on the to do list with this announcement.

    The whole back and forth between who is eviler, Iran or Israel is silliness.

    • Will

      The hardliners have been running the show since the fall of the Shaw. From a thousand ships in the Gulf to super advanced tanks and fighters to super-cavitating torpedoes, the Iranians have been bluffing their military prowess mostly for domestic consumption as one of the proxies for political legitimacy. The hardliners are in a race against a ticking demographic time-bomb in Iran. It’s a dangerous gambit they are making, but the stakes are very high for them as well as for Israel, and by extension, the US and all the M-E regional powers.

  • L147

    Belarus is at Odds with Russia since the spring of 2010
    Some indicators:

    #1 Russian refusal to keep USSR era economic subsidiary between the 2 nations
    #2 Belarus reduction of Gas supply to Europe by 30% (6% of Russian Gas supply)
    #3 Belarus improving relations with Georgia
    #4 Taking in the Kyrgyzstan Ex-President although Russia already blessed the new one

    That said the missiles could have been transferred directly from Russia & blamed on Belarus. Russia will have to make sure they install the best missiles they got otherwise nobody will want to order S300s!

  • David

    So now Israel can say if a country can obtain strictly defensive weapons? What hypocrites! Israel has the best air defense weapons US and German money can buy them. Not to mention the only country in the middle east with nukes. Maybe if Iran was able to get the defensive weapons they want they wouldn’t feel so threaten by Israel’s vast offensive military.

  • Johnboy

    Ah, guys, concerning your pooh-poohing “Earlier this spring, we posted photos of an Iranian military parade that featured a clearly not real mock-up of an S-300 launcher.”

    Certainly the photo did not resemble an S-300 (did the Iranians claim that it was?), but to my untrained eye it bears a family resemblence to this: http://www.defence.pk/forums/china-defence/44347-
    and this: http://www.sinodefence.com/army/surfacetoairmissi

    Not an S-300, sure, but not necessarily “oil drums welded together”

  • Jay

    Israel just developed a new drone almost 737 sized which can reach Iran and loiter. My suspicious is that will be used to attack and absorb SAM so the manned fighters don’t.
    Even losing a single crewed plane over Iran would be a nightmare for Israel and would probably require releasing hundreds of terrorists from Israeli jails for a swap.

    So a drone with ARMs may be key, but they would need time to take down the radars, especially if Iran doesn’t turn them all on at once. And Israel probably won’t be given a lot of time, since the minute bombs start falling the leftwing media, Europe, UN, and likely BHO are going to start raving for Israel to stop. They might get a couple days before “international pressure” comes to protect their favorite lunatics in Iran.

    • Andres

      any source for that 737 – drone claim?

  • labou

    the low flying profil is the best answer.overwerhelming iran defense with drones is enough for the success of the attack. Anyway the advantage is for the attacker as iran did not build sam ,israel can the finish the entire stock by sending drones for 100 sam israel can send 100 drones the iran will obliged to destroy them after that the door of the destruction is opened .so said the S-300 will not change the game!

    • Enthusiast

      S-300 itself as a single deployed system will not change the game, true. But when it deployed in SAM network, with other short-to-medium range SAM coverage, jammers, fake radar imitators, S-band radar stations (to counter VLO targets and additional targeting for S-300 radars), Anti-HARM (“Gezetchik”) systems, … it’s another story.
      Air defense is complex system. S-300 is just a major part of it.

  • Nabil

    I don’t think this has any thing to do with the defence system, it has to do with who gets their way, ans no matter howmuch pressure and menuvering the US and ISrrael put our IRan got their way at the end

  • roland

    Maybe Russia, Georgia or Greece will sell us one of this us to study, modify and upgrade our (USA) defenses.

  • roland

    Maybe Russia, Georgia or Greece will sell us one of this to us to study, modify and upgrade our (USA) defen

  • Radek

    Whats the point of attacking Iran ?

  • N

    In 2007, Spokesman of Iran’s foreign ministary said that Iran is able to make S300 missiles as same as other Iranian-made missiles and in 2010, Iran showed 2S-300 systems.

    In the other hand, they claimed that they are able to make a system similiar to S300.

  • rdm

    In the end you really can’t count on Russia or China, to support anyone like the US supports Israel, they are in it for the profit and the game only.