Intelligence: Are They, or Aren't They?

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August 25, 2007: Russia has delivered the first dozen or so (of 50) Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft systems. This is giving the intel folks in the West another headache. Russian officials pointed out that the sales agreement forbade transfer of any of the systems to a third country without Russian permission. This was in response to persistent reports that Iran was actually paying for these weapons, and was getting some of them.

Russia made the sale to Syria, despite $13.4 billion still owned for past purchases. Russia forgave most (73 percent) of the old debt, and is taking some of the balance in goods. In return, Syria is able to buy $400 million worth of anti-aircraft systems, mainly the self-propelled Pantsir-S1. This is a mobile system, each vehicle carries radar, two 30mm cannon and twelve Tunguska missiles. The missiles have a twenty kilometer range, the radar a 30 kilometer range. The missile can hit targets at up to 26,000 feet. The 30mm cannon is effective up to 10,000 feet. The vehicle carrying all this weighs 20 tons and has a crew of three.

By selling to Syria, even via the use of an enormous discount, Russia gets another foreign customer for their new anti-aircraft systems. Previously, fifty of these systems had been sold to the United Arab Emirates. Each foreign sales make it easier to sell these systems to other foreign customers. As a practical matter, Syria is too poor to ever pay back the forgiven debt, so forgiving the debt recognizes that reality. However, because Syria has been a client state of Iran for decades, the assertions that Iran put up the money, and will get many of the systems, carry a lot of weight. Iran would most likely use these systems to protect high value targets, like nuclear weapons research facilities. However, if anyone should get photos of these systems in Iran, there would be quite an uproar. Given the amount of spy satellite coverage Iran gets, hiding the Pantsir-S1 vehicles would be difficult. So the intel folk will have to deal with an ongoing problem; are they, or aren't they?

 


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