Air Defense: Iran Makes Mediocre Better


October 2, 2012: Iran recently announced the introduction of upgraded Russian anti-aircraft missile systems. The Taer-2 missiles appear to be updated SA-6s (a 1970s design Iran obtained in the 1990s). The Taer-2 missile is part of a new anti-aircraft system (Raad) that borrows some technology from the more recent Russian SA-11/17 (9K37 Buk M2), obtained via Syria (who bought them from Russia with Iranian cash).

The Russian SA-11 uses a 680 kg (1,500 pound) missile with a range of 30 kilometers. The latest SA-6 missile is about ten percent lighter and has a max range of 24 kilometers. Iran says it has improved some of the Buk M2 components and substituted Iranian built radars and fire control systems. Thus the Taer-2 missile claims a range of 50 kilometers and max altitude of 22 kilometers (70,000 feet). This seems too good to be true and this new Raad system may be more publicity stunt than new weapon.

Four of the SA-11 missiles are mounted on a tracked transporter, which appears to be of Iranian design. The SA-11 is combat proven, having recently been used in Georgia, by both sides to shoot down aircraft and UAVs. But not everyone is so confident in the SA-11.

For example, three years ago Finland decided to replace, at a cost of over $700 million, its three year old Russian SA-11 anti-aircraft missile systems with Norwegian NASAMS. Norway developed this system in the early 1990s and deployed the first missiles and radars in 1995. NASAMS uses the American AMRAMM radar guided air-to-air missiles fired from a six missile container. This ground based AMRAAM weighs 159 kg (350 pounds), has a range of 30 kilometers (it's radar can see out 50-70 kilometers), and can hit targets as high as 21 kilometers (65,000 feet). The AMRAAMs are protected inside their canister, which means fewer maintenance problems. What makes the AMRAMM so effective as a SAM is the capabilities of its guidance system (which is about two thirds of the $400,000 missiles cost). AMRAAM can also be used to shoot down cruise missiles. Norway pioneered the use of AMRAAM as a surface to air missile.

The Finns received the SA-11s in payment for the $300 million debt that would have taken much longer to get paid off in cash. Russia has paid off many of its older (often Soviet era) debts with modern military equipment. Some of the recipients have found that the stuff wasn't modern, or effective, enough. Even with upgrades the accuracy and reliability of the AMRAAM is superior to the Russian missile. The Finns believe the AMRAAM (also combat proven) based NASAMS is a better long term choice. There's also the suspicion that Russia may know things about defeating the SA-11 that they are not sharing with the Finns. The Iranians may have had similar qualms.






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