Air Defense: Defeating Iran Creates BMD Believers


May 25, 2024: Since the failed Iranian April 2024 missile attack on Israel, the Iranians have become obsessed with BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) systems. While most of the cruise and ballistic missiles launched against Israel were intercepted, a brief Israeli counterattack efficiently destroyed some Iranian air defense systems. This attack was an Israeli demonstration of their ability to easily destroy Iranian air defenses. The Israelis used air-to-ground missiles launched from Israeli aircraft out of range of Iranian air defenses. Iran realized they needed effective BMD weapons to defend themselves from Israeli ballistic missile attacks. Israel is unlikely to use its Jericho ballistic missiles to attack Iran. Israel’s most advanced Jericho missile is used to put Israeli space satellites into orbit. The Israeli Space Agency has been launching these since 1988 and currently has several surveillance satellites in orbit.

Iran fears Israel will use its longer range Jericho missiles to attack Iran. While that is possible, Israel isn’t interested in attacking Iran. The recent attack on an Iranian air defense system was carried out to discourage more Iranian attacks on Israel. The massive Iranian cruise and ballistic missile attack on Israel in early 2024 was a massive failure and major embarrassment for Iran. The Islamic dictatorship that runs Iran would like to attack Israel again, or at least try to but is discouraged by the Israeli ability to deal with such attacks and then make smaller retaliatory attacks on Iran that the Iranians can’t intercept.

The Persian Gulf Arab oil states, particularly Saudi Arabia, are long time users of Patriot missile defense systems and for nearly a decade have been intercepting Iranian ballistic missiles launched by Iran-backed Yemen Shia in Yemen. These missiles are launched against Saudi targets from the Yemen-Saudi border in southwest Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are now preparing to use their Patriots to intercept missiles launched directly from Iran.

The Yemen rebels are being attacked on all sides and smuggling in additional Iranian missiles is nearly impossible because of the reinforced naval blockade off the Yemen Red Sea coast. Here the Yemen rebels have been trying to prevent ships from reaching the Suez Canal. That made the Egyptians angry since they make nearly $10 billion a year from canal tolls. Global shipping companies must spend a lot more time and money to move cargoes to their destinations when the Suez Canal is not available.

Iran is responsible for arming the disruptive Yemen rebels and much else besides, generally getting its pet Iraqi militias to attack American troops, which happened even after the Biden administration gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief. Iran has been a major troublemaker since the 1980s, when a religious dictatorship took power. The result has been wave after wave of economic sanctions on Iran. This has caused growing poverty in Iran and a population angry at their own government for impoverishing them while trying, without much success, to attack Israel and ships headed for the Suez Canal.

Iran tried to develop new exports and was able to sell thousands of Shahed cruise missiles to Russia. Iran was particularly disappointed with the ineffectiveness of their Shahed cruise missiles used against Israel. These missiles were similarly ineffective when Russia used them against Ukraine. The Shahed 136 cruise missiles have four or five hours endurance and speed of at about 180 kilometers an hour. Their warheads have 15 or 25 kg of explosives. Shahed 136 is believed to cost about $50,000 each, with most being the $30,000 gasoline engine. Both missiles use GPS navigation with a crude INS (inertial navigation system) backup. These missiles fly low, a few hundred meters at most, to avoid radar detection and conserve fuel. These missiles are launched from a truck mounted launcher carrying four or five missiles in a box type storage/launch container. A small rocket is attached to the bottom of the missile to get it airborne and the engine running. The rocket is then supposed to fall away. GPS locations have to be entered into the GPS system before launch. Even with the low cost of key components there is not much of an advantage purchasing the Shahed 131 because it is so easy to detect and shoot down.

The Ukrainians quickly developed tactics to defeat the Shahed 136s used against military targets. The low flying Shahed 136 engine is so loud it can be heard several kilometers away and, while rifle and machine-gun bullets are not very effective against it, larger caliber weapons like 12.7mm/14.5mm machine-guns are lethal to the Shahed 136. Another vulnerability of the Shahed 136 was that its inexpensive components were often unreliable and a large portion of them failed before reaching a target. These usually crash land intact, allowing detailed analysis of components and construction. Another vulnerability is to electronic AUD (Anti-UAV Defense) systems that employ jamming and other EW (Electronic Warfare) techniques to disable UAV guidance systems.

The only winners here are the American defense companies that are selling billions of dollars’ worth of BMD systems to the Arab Gulf States and NATO nations for use in Ukraine. These NATO nations have noticed that they could be targets for Russian missiles and are also purchasing the American BMD systems. These systems have been used under combat conditions and demonstrated they work. That has made the American BMD systems easier to sell.




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