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BMD Focus: Russia's S-300s boost Iran

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by Martin Sieff
Washington (UPI) Dec 23, 2008
A leading Iranian parliamentarian claimed Sunday that Russia had begun to send sections of its S-300 anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense system to Iran.

The politically explosive claim could seriously damage the incoming Obama administration's hopes of improving relations with Russia and even reaching agreement to replace the aging 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in December 2009.

Esmaeil Kosari, deputy chairman of the parliamentary commission on national security and foreign policy, informed Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency that after years of talks, agreement had finally been reached. He stated that Iran would initially base the S-300 surface-to-air interceptors to defend its borders.

RIA Novosti, citing the IRNA report, also noted that in the past few months Russia also sent to Iran 29 Tor-M1 air defense missile systems worth $700 million under a deal closed in late 2005. The news agency further noted that Russian technicians had taught Iranian engineers and technicians how to operate the Tor-M1, including the radar systems that guide it.

Reports about the impending sale of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft and anti-missile interceptor systems to Iran have been circulating and have been reported in these columns for almost four years. According to the RIA Novosti report, "these systems could greatly improve Iranian defenses against any airstrike on its strategically important sites, including nuclear facilities."

RIA Novosti said the advanced version of the S-300 missile system, the S-300PMU1 -- NATO designation SA-20 Gargoyle -- could shoot down targets as far as 100 miles away and that it was capable of destroying ballistic missiles and aircraft at both low and high altitudes.

The report also noted that Iran over the past year had carried out several much publicized military exercises culminating in ambitious Iranian air force and ballistic missile defense manometers from Sept. 15-18.

The scale of the deal that will equip Iran with the Russian S-300 Growler system is a massive one.

Russian military analyst Ilya Kramnik wrote Dec. 19 for RIA Novosti that Iran "expects to get five battalions of S-300PMUs, or up to 20 systems -- 60 launchers -- depending on the makeup of a battalion. Each of the launchers carries four 48N6E missiles -- 48N6E2s with the PMU-2 mobile launchers -- with a range of 150 kilometers -- 90 miles -- up to 200 kilometers -- 120 miles -- 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 redeployed for repulsing a repeat raid," Kramnik wrote.

However, just as the planned deployment of 10 U.S.-built Ground-based Mid-course Interceptors in Poland will require further U.S. batteries of shorter-range Patriot PAC-3 anti-ballistic missile interceptors to protect them, the deployment of Russian S-300s in Iran will set off an escalating process of further Russian ballistic missile defense investment in that country, too.

Kramnik described this process of escalation, or intensified commitment. "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," he wrote. "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 Poland, U.S. GBIs are designed to shoot down any Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles that might be aimed at Western Europe or the United States. The Patriots would not have the range to do that, but they could defend the GBI launch complex from being destroyed in any pre-emptive attack by Russian highly accurate, fast, low-flying, solid fuel Iskander-M missiles based in the Kaliningrad region north of Poland.

Similarly, Kramnik noted, the S-300s would be designed to engage and destroy U.S. aircraft and missiles at longer range, while the Tor-M1s already sold and delivered to Iran would be a closer range, inner line of the layered air defense system.

The S-300s may be especially effective as U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles fly only at subsonic speeds of around 650 miles per hour. Russian cruise missiles fly three times as fast at Mach 2.8 --1,700 miles per hour.

Kramnik's conclusion is therefore credible when he writes, "Five battalions of S-300 SAMs will contribute significantly not only to the protection of designated facilities, but also to the defense capability of (Iran) as a whole."

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