On December 17, 2008, RIA Novosti, quoting confidential sources, reported on its website that Russia is to deliver S-300 surface-to-air systems to Iran. Which, based on previous experience, is most likely true. How will the balance of strength change in this region if Iran really gets the systems? (Russian mobile surface-to-air missile systems - Image gallery)
Before considering an answer, it is necessary to see what weapons Iran's armed forces will receive and in what quantities.
It has been repeatedly stated that Iran expects to get five battalions of S-300PMUs, or up to 20 systems (60 launchers), depending on the make-up of a battalion. Each of the launchers carries four 48N6E missiles (48N6E2s with the PMU-2 mobile launchers) with a range of 150 kilometers (up to 200 kilometers for the 48N6E2s). Each launch system consists of three launchers and is capable of engaging six targets at the same time, aiming 12 missiles at them. One battalion consisting of four systems is, therefore, capable of dealing with 24 aircraft simultaneously. After changing position and replenishing ammunition, it can be quickly re-deployed for repulsing a repeat raid.
It should be remembered that S-300 missiles themselves need to be protected - for this purpose Iran can use Tor-M1 surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and Chinese FM-80s. Coupled with S-300s, these short-range missiles can set up a credible air defense system able to protect the facility covered and itself. In this tandem, S-300s will act as a long arm to shoot down sophisticated targets at long distances, while close-in weapons will protect the facility and S-300s from cruise missiles, aircraft and UAVs that break through.
Five battalions of S-300 SAMs will contribute significantly not only to the protection of designated facilities, but also to the defense capability of the country as a whole. Deliveries of new SAMs will make it possible to move old systems to other parts of the country, increasing its air defense density. Should Iran have time to deploy the Russian systems and to control the grouping, the overall damage from air defenses may exceed the threshold acceptable to Iran's potential opponents.
S-300s do not, of course, guarantee Iran's invincibility or invulnerability. The U.S. Air Force and naval aviation can, if necessary, break through even these defenses. At issue is the time required and acceptable level of loss. Ultimately, the question may prove to be the main argument in the hands of those opposed to a military operation against Iran and remove an Iran-U.S. armed conflict from the agenda for a long time.
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