Monday, March 17, 2008

Iran and the S-300PT


Open-source reporting indicates that Iran has purchased the S-300PT SAM system from Belarus. The S-300PT will represent the most modern, advanced SAM system in Iran when it is operationally deployed.


According to Jane's International Defence Review, Iran is now the owner of four S-300PT battalions. Two of these units were sourced from Belarus, and had been deployed as capital-area air defence units around Minsk. The other two units were sourced from an undisclosed nation and were recently refurbished by Belarussian technicians working at an IRGC facility in Iran, where the units were stored.

A typical Belarussian S-300PT battery consisted of twelve TELs, one 5N63 (FLAP LID) engagement radar, and one 5N66 (CLAM SHELL) low altitude detection radar. It is therefore logical to assume that the two "battalions" obtained from Belarus were in fact two complete firing batteries worth of equipment. Combined with the other two units refurbished in Iran, this gives Iran a total deployable force of approximately four S-300PT batteries.

Jane's goes on to state that both the 5V55K and 5V55R missiles were included in the deal with Belarus, implying that the systems were of the improved S-300PT-1 or S-300PT-1A variant. Baseline S-300PT systems lacked the ability to employ the SAGG-guided 5V55R weapon, and were limited to using the command-guided 5V55K only. It is possible that the extended-range 5V55RUD was also included.

The S-300PT provides Iran with a modern, complex, and very effective SAM system. Iran's current strategic SAM systems, the HQ-2 (CSA-1 GUIDELINE) and S-200 (SA-5 GAMMON), are limited by their single-target engagement capability. The S-300PT's 5N63 radar system can prosecute six targets simultaneously, while guiding a maximum of two missiles to each target.

The S-300PT is also a far more mobile system than its Iranian stablemates. It is not, however, a true mobile SAM system. The 5N63 radar system is not vehicle-borne, and is mounted on a towed trailer for transport. 40V6 mast assemblies are required to erect the 5N63 and 5N66 radar systems, although the 5N63 could remain on its trailer for operation if required. These factors lend the S-300PT to a fixed site layout rather than a mobile environment.


Four S-300PT batteries will result in a significant increase in overall capability, but are not enough to upgrade the entire Iranian air defense network. In order to maximize their effectiveness, Iran will likely adopt one of two deployment strategies. The systems will likely be deployed to protect either significant military facilities, or significant nuclear weapons research and production facilities, or a combination of the two.

Should Iran choose to deploy its four S-300PT batteries to defend militarily significant sites, the following would be the likely locations:

-Tehran, home to Iran's military command
-Tabriz, home to Iran's silo-based missile deterrent
-Bushehr, home to an IrIAF fighter unit and S-200 battery covering much of the Persian Gulf region
-Bandar Abbas, Iran's primary naval facility in the Persian Gulf region and home to the Kilo submarine fleet

The following image depicts the areas defended by S-300PT batteries at the aforementioned locations. The three range rings around each site denote the 47km 5V55K missile, the 75km 5V55R missile, and the 90km 5V55RUD missile.

Should Iran choose to deploy its four S-300PT batteries to defend significant nuclear weapons research and development sites, the four likely locations are as follows:

-Tehran, home to the nuclear research center
-Bushehr, home to the contentious nuclear reactor program
-Natanz, home to a fuel enrichment facility
-Esfahan, home to a uranium conversion facility

The following image depicts the areas defended by S-300PT batteries at the aforementioned locations. The three range rings around each site denote the 47km 5V55K missile, the 75km 5V55R missile, and the 90km 5V55RUD missile.

To illustrate the limited effect that the S-300PT's presence will have in the context of the overall Iranian air defense picture, consider the following image. In this image, the S-300PTs have been deployed at the nuclear facilities. HQ-2, S-200, and HAWK engagement zones are also displayed, the HQ-2 being denoted by dark red rings, the S-200 by light purple, and the HAWK by orange.

As can be seen, the short-range of even the 5V55RUD-equipped S-300PT does not result in a significant increase in capability. The S-300PT does have a multiple target engagement capability advantage, and this is why the system is likely to be deployed as a point defense asset to protect various facilities. To create a more potent air defense network overall, either a longer-range system would be required, or an increased number of S-300PT batteries.


On occasion, Iran has turned to North Korea for military assistance. It is possible that North Korea could be called upon to aid in increasing the survivability of Iran's most modern strategic SAM system through the use of hardened launch sites. North Korea has been shown to employ significant hardening techniques at S-125 (SA-3 GOA) and S-200 sites, to include the use of silos used to house the engagement radars, which are ostensibly fitted to elevating platforms. Similar techniques, if employed by the Iranians, could help to make the S-300PT systems far more survivable. Iran has shown a degree of competence in the field of hardened facilities recently with the silo-based missile complex at Tabriz, and could certainly undertake a hardened deployment of the S- 300PT on its own, but North Korean assistance in this regard may still be worthwhile given their experience with hardened siting of SAM systems.

Given the nature of the system, the S-300PT could be deployed in two separate types of hardened facility. The first would feature underground garages for the complete TELs. The second would feature much simpler hardened silos for the individual, sealed launch canisters.

The first example of a hardened site concept for the S-300PT system involves a below-ground, concrete hardened garage. Inside this garage, the 5P85 TEL is mounted. When elevated for launch, a retractable skirt would join the missile tubes with the silo opening. The silo would be covered with quick-opening launch doors, likely covered with debris or dirt when closed to assist in keeping the location hidden. A control bunker would be provided for launch crews, and an entry door would allow the removal of the TEL for maintenance or reloading. Finally, an exhaust extraction fan would prevent the buildup of toxic gasses inside the garage bay.

An illustration of the concept described above is provided below:

The alternative to basing the entire TEL inside of a hardened facility is to simply mount the individual launch canisters inside of hardened silos. These silos would be far cheaper to develop and maintain, and would require far less time to construct given their smaller scale. These remote launch facilities would consist of a number of silos, each containing four 5V55-series launch tubes. As the 5V55 missile tubes are sealed until launch, they could remain inside the silo until they are launched. The only above-ground component required would be a communications antenna, allowing launch commands to be transmitted from the fire control facility. If the radar is located in close proximity, the launch silos could be connected via more secure cables. However, using radio commands would permit the launch sites to be dispersed over greater distances, potentially making them much harder to locate. Basing the missile canisters inside of silo complexes also allows the TELs themselves to be held in reserve in the event that the silo complexes are destroyed, allowing Iran to retain the ability to redeploy the system should the need arise.

An illustration of the concept described above is provided below:


The main problem with such a small number of deployable batteries is that they cannot be employed to maximum effect. Doing so would involve the use of EW assets such as the 36D6 (TIN SHIELD) or 64N6 (BIG BIRD) EW radars to provide target acquisition data. the 5N63 engagement radar employed by the S-300PT can perform independent target acquisition functions, but the system is more effective with off-board cueing, providing quicker reaction times. A long-range radar system such as the 64N6 can also acquire targets at roughly twice the range of the 5N63, providing a greater degree of early warning and enhanced situational awareness.

As there is no evidence to suggest that Iran obtained either the 36D6 or the 64N6, it is likely that the batteries will, for the time being, be left to operate as independent units. In this regard, it is entirely possible that Iran may choose to keep its S-300PT batteries garrisoned, deploying them to predetermined locations when the need arises. The only issue with this strategy is that the S-300PT does require a semi-prepared site to operate from, and such sites, unless they are of the hardened, sub-surface variety described earlier, are easily located in overhead imagery.


The S-300PT represents the most advanced SAM system in the Iranian inventory. When the Belarussian systems are delivered, the four S-300PT batteries will represent a serious roadblock towards a limited incursion by an aggressor such as Israel seeking to destabilize the region by striking Iranian nuclear weapons production facilities. The S-300PT will not, however, close Iranian airspace to a large-scale aerial offensive. To achieve that goal, Iran must continue to pursue acquisition of more modern S-300PM-1/2 or S-400 SAM systems from Russia, and the EW systems to integrate them on a national level.


-All satellite imagery provided courtesy of Google Earth
-SAM range data taken from Jane's Land-Based Air Defence
-"Iran set to acquire S-300PTs from Belarus" - Jane's International Defence Review, February 1, 2008


ELP said...

Why has the latest variant of the SA-17 not been considered as a solution to provide a mobile irritant and assist under the umbrella of an S-300 family system as it pertains to Iranian IADS solutions?

Certainly the SA-17 would have some weak points and might be even useless against a low observable threat. However wouldn't it have some potential in the greater team effort if one takes into account the Dirty Harry saying of: "A man's got to know his limitations."?

Also it is being reported that maybe this year we will see an F-22 deployment to the M.E. Should make for a nice geo-locating catalog provider of IADS like emitters.

Keep up the good work.

Mark Pyruz said...

Fine reporting, Sean.

Noteworthy that the S-300PT is reportedly being handled by the IRGC, rather than the IRIAF. In addition to its physical deployment, it will be interesting to observe Iranian modifications to the system, which has become a customary feature of advanced Iranian weapon systems. For instance, Iranian EW was a resounding success in action against the Israeli Navy during the 2nd Lebanon War.

Kim Jong Ilien said...

When the Iranian S-300 will be deployed? With the S-300 system in Iran, can Israel destroy Iranian nuclear facilities? I think that Iran must cooperate with North Korea for assistance.

Eolande said...

Good post.