Monday, December 22, 2008

Israel vs. SAM: Iran's S-300

INTRODUCTION

On Sunday it was reported that Russia has begun delivering advanced S-300 SAM systems to Iran. Iran has been after some of the advanced variants of the S-300P series for some time, and delivery of these systems would represent a significant upgrade to the Iranian air defense network.

IRANIAN SAMS, YES OR NO?

Iran has been rumored to be a customer or recipient of S-300P variants for some time. Last year it was reported by Jane's that Iran had received S-300PT (SA-10A GRUMBLE) SAM systems from Belarus and was preparing them for service. These reports have yet to be confirmed or conclusively debunked, but Iranian persistance in attempting to order more advanced S-300PM (SA-20 GARGOYLE) variants from Russia does cast a degree of doubt on their accuracy.

Russia was quick to respond to Iran's allegation that the S-300's were being delivered. In October Israeli Prime Minister Olmert had met with Russian leaders in Moscow and was assured that Russia would not deliver advanced S-300P series SAM systems to Iran. Shortly after Iran made its announcement on Sunday, Russian officials denied the reports and stated that they were abiding by the agreement made with PM Olmert regarding the transfer of advanced air defense weapons to Iran.

If Russia is to be believed in this case, then it would seem that the Iranian government is attempting to force Russia's hand into abiding by whatever sale agreement may have been discussed in the past. Alternatively, this could be an effort to raise eyebrows on the international stage over Israel's interference in Iranian affairs. The other side of the coin is that Russia may be acting deceptively, intending on selling the system to Iran, aiding in its setup, and only announcing the sale once the system has been delivered and emplaced. This is not as likely however as the emplacement and activation of these systems would be visible through intelligence sources.

ISRAELI OPPOSITION

The reason for Israeli opposition to a Russian sale of S-300P series SAM systems, particularly late-model S-300PMU-1 or S-300PMU-2 variants, to Iran is clear. Israel is currently preparing for a potential military strike on Iran to thwart Iranian nuclear ambitions. Regardless of whether or not Iran's nuclear intentions are truly peaceful or not, Israel's position regarding the S-300P sale or transfer is understandable. The latest S-300P variants represent some of the most advanced and capable SAM systems in the world, and would represent a significant obstacle to any Israeli air campaign against Iran. One can debate the issue of Israel objecting to a sovereign nation procuring a defensive weapon system, but the fact remains that an S-300P brigade inside of Iran would cause air planners serious problems and potentially prevent them from acting out the wishes of their leadership.

THE EW ELEMENT

The interesting facet of this entire scenario is that Israel has claimed to have developed electronic warfare systems capable of defeating the S-300P series. Israel reportedly obtained the 5N63 (FLAP LID) guidance radar of an S-300PMU (SA-10B GRUMBLE) battery sold to Croatia in 1995. Israeli claims of being able to defeat the S-300P were widely publicised in Jane's Defense Weekly and other media outlets. Israel also exercised with Greece in May and June of this year to gain further expertise against the more modern S-300PMU-1 system and its 30N6 (TOMB STONE) guidance radar.

PATH TO WAR?

It would appear that Iran has not yet received any S-300P series SAM components. Russian officials would likely not make such a strong assertion were the opposite to be true, knowing that the tell-tale emissions from the system's radar systems would belie their presence to the world once activated inside of Iran. This would certainly eventually be true for two reasons: first, Iran would have to activate the systems in order to employ them in defense of key facilities or border regions, and second, the radar systems used by the S-300P series are not employed by any other SAM system, with the exception of the 36D6 (TIN SHIELD) EW radar. The presence of the guidance and battle management radars inside of Iran cannot therefor be attributed to the sale of any other SAM system. Russia also cannot claim that an advanced S-300PM series system has been supplied by an outside user, as systems missing from China and Greece, being the only other users of the advanced versions, would be missed by American intelligence sources and such an allegation could be easily disproven.

The ultimate takeaway from Israel's negotiating with Moscow in October and its August 2008 claim that if such a system was delivered to Iran that Israel would be forced to develop a counter, is that Israel's efforts to defeat the S-300P series of SAM systems may not have been as succesful as once believed. Had Israeli efforts in exploiting Croatian and Greek systems been successful in developing adequate electronic warfare systems and countertactics, Israel would likely have sat by and watched the Iranian regime spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a missile system that they knew represented a limited threat. Given Israel's work in the field of electronic warfare it is possible that reports suggesting that the S-300P could be countered by new systems were a form of deception aimed at convincing Iranian leadership that the purchase of such a ssytem was a wasted effort. In that light, the potential for an eventual S-300P SAM sale to Iran may be the catalyst that finally pushes Israel into striking Iranian nuclear facilities. The Israeli military is rightfully very concerned over the potential of advanced S-300P series SAM systems taking up residence inside of Iran, and if political pressure on Moscow is not enough to prevent a transfer than military action may be the end result.

SOURCES

Iran Says Russia Delivering S-300 Air Defense Systems
Russia denies supplying Iran with missiles capable of repelling Israeli air strike
Israel develops countermeasures to S-300 system
'We'll neutralize S-300 if they're sold to Iran'
Greece assists Israel as war with Iran looms

2 comments:

CayceG said...

You know, if Israel takes offense to this then I think Russia's possible purchase of the Israeli Heron UAVs may be in jeopardy.

Anonymous said...

I don't get the point in Russia purchasing Heron UAVs to Israel. Russia is more than capable of developing its own such as the Skat or REIS-D. Even though its systems might require some time to be refined, I find unlikely Russia will come up to recognize it produces lesser-quality military products by ways of buying ELINT devices from foreign sources.