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Air Defense: Iran Buys False Hope
   
November 27, 2006: The sale of Russian Tor-M1 missile system to Iran have generated a fair bit of hype, but a closer look reveals that the sale is not as big a deal as some try to  make it out to be. While the Russians are selling 29 missile systems, it is not nearly enough to reliably defend all of the key sites in Iran's nuclear program.

The Iranian nuclear program is scattered throughout the country - some around Tehran, some around Bushehr, some in other locations. In other words, these launchers will not be bunched up, they will be scattered across Iran. Can the Tor-M1 cover all of it? Not quite. The reasons are easily discovered when one looks closely at the system involved.

The Tor-M1 - known to NATO as the SA-15 Gauntlet, has a maximum range of 12 kilometers. It is only effective up to 6000 meters altitude. The system was designed as a successor to the SA-N-8 Gecko. Each launcher carries eight missiles, and it is claimed to be capable of engaging two targets simultaneously. The system was designed to be a tactical battlefield air-defense system, designed to take out close-air-support planes like the A-10 or tactical fighter-bombers like the F-4, F-16, and F-18.

Against a Tomahawk cruise missile, which goes as fast as 880 kilometers per hour, and comes in at very low altitudes, the Tor-M1 is a very marginal system. A single Tor would have 49 seconds at most to engage a Tomahawk if it detects the missile at its maximum range. That is a pretty big if, as radar performance declines against low-altitude targets. This assumes the missile will hit. If the missile misses (not an unthinkable occurrence in some circumstances), then more have to be fired.

If Tomahawks are not an option, then attacking from above the Tor's reach is. Most American combat planes can easily fly at altitudes above 6000 meters. These aircraft would have the option of either attacking the Tor systems themselves (and clearing the road for Tomahawks or combat aircraft to attack the main target), or going for the main target itself.

Tor could also be neutralized by sending in UAVs or target drones on a flight profile similar to that flown by combat aircraft or Tomahawk cruise missiles. This was the technique used in the 1991 Gulf War against the Iraqi air defense system. The Iraqis fired at the drones, revealing the location of the missile batteries and drawing very prompt attention from American Wild Weasels. The Iraqi system was neutralized very quickly.

When it comes right down to it, the Iranians have spent some of their petrodollars to get a missile system that looks good on paper, and which generate media attention, but ultimately is a false sense of security. The Russians have managed to make some money, get an export customer, yet these systems will not be able to deflect a determined attack against the nuclear weapons program. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)


  

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displacedjim       11/27/2006 11:09:58 AM
SA-15s will be a significant increase in the quality of the point defenses at the targets they are deployed around.  Their main benefit will be to greatly increase Iranian capability to intercept cruise missiles and smart bombs as they approach the target.  As Harold pointed out, they present little threat to our aircraft because we routinely operate above the missile system's effective altitude.  What they will do is cause America to expend roughly about as many additional smart weapons as there are SA-15 missiles ready to fire in their launch vehicles, and then after that the targets will be struck.  That amounts to about 29 x 8 = 232 extra weapons than we would otherwise have used, which (depending on platform) means at most about an extra 116 sorties--which may end up adding one day to our air campaign at most.  However, their true value is against a limited air operation where simply overcoming them through sheer numbers is not an option, i.e., air operations by any country other than America.  What SA-15s around Iranian nuclear targets do is pretty much erase any extremely slim chance Israel ever had of actually mounting a significant air/sea strike 1500km from Israel.
 
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DarthAmerica    DJ Reply   11/27/2006 12:34:46 PM

SA-15s will be a significant increase in the quality of the point defenses at the targets they are deployed around.  Their main benefit will be to greatly increase Iranian capability to intercept cruise missiles and smart bombs as they approach the target.  As Harold pointed out, they present little threat to our aircraft because we routinely operate above the missile system's effective altitude.  What they will do is cause America to expend roughly about as many additional smart weapons as there are SA-15 missiles ready to fire in their launch vehicles, and then after that the targets will be struck.  That amounts to about 29 x 8 = 232 extra weapons than we would otherwise have used, which (depending on platform) means at most about an extra 116 sorties--which may end up adding one day to our air campaign at most.  However, their true value is against a limited air operation where simply overcoming them through sheer numbers is not an option, i.e., air operations by any country other than America.  What SA-15s around Iranian nuclear targets do is pretty much erase any extremely slim chance Israel ever had of actually mounting a significant air/sea strike 1500km from Israel.


Interesting analysis DJ. What you say makes sense to me but..what about Israel's other options. Options such as using anti-material sniper rifles, direct action operations or high altitude drones equipped to fire smart weapons? Granted the IDF/AF has a much more formidable challenges than the TOR-M1 to overcome to successfully strike from 1500km away! Still though, there are more ways than one to skin a cat. The TOR-M1 makes things much more difficult for Israel in the target area, but not impossible IMO.


DA


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http://www.israeli-weapons.com/weapons/aircraft/uav/harpy/harpy_p.jpg">



 
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displacedjim       11/28/2006 12:30:41 AM



Interesting analysis DJ. What you say makes sense to me but..what about Israel's other options. Options such as using anti-material sniper rifles, direct action operations or high altitude drones equipped to fire smart weapons? Granted the IDF/AF has a much more formidable challenges than the TOR-M1 to overcome to successfully strike from 1500km away! Still though, there are more ways than one to skin a cat. The TOR-M1 makes things much more difficult for Israel in the target area, but not impossible IMO.


DA



Agreed that there are always options, as well as countermeasures.  At the end of my earlier post I said "air/sea" and purposely did not include "land."  That was my way of not discounting special operations forces.  I'm not sure about UAV use, as I'm not particularly familiar with any Israeli long-range designs, although again there could be some more clandestine way of infiltrating some short-ranged UAVs.  But either way, they still need to deliver munitions (or go kamikaze) and at that point the SA-15 potentially could intercept the weapons just as it might destroy piloted-aircraft-delivered-munitions.  However, I'm sure the typical sort of electronic countermeasures and anti-radiation missiles used against other radar-guided SAMs could have good effect against the SA-15 as well.  Another approach would be for Israel to develop some LO weapons to reduce the probability of successful intercept by the SA-15 batteries.  I guess I was thinking of a relatively comprehensive target list that includes SRBM launch sites and storage facilities, NBC warhead storage facilities, and nuclear research facilities.  I doubt such a strike or series of strikes could be adequately serviced by anything less than a substantial airstike.  However, a less comprehensive target list certainly could still be attack by other means.


 
 
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FJV       11/28/2006 12:55:44 PM
Why would you want to have your presumably secret nuke site conveniently pointed out to your enemy by stationing SAMs around it?




 
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DarthAmerica       11/28/2006 1:48:06 PM


Interesting analysis DJ. What you say makes sense to me but..what about Israel's other options. Options such as using anti-material sniper rifles, direct action operations or high altitude drones equipped to fire smart weapons? Granted the IDF/AF has a much more formidable challenges than the TOR-M1 to overcome to successfully strike from 1500km away! Still though, there are more ways than one to skin a cat. The TOR-M1 makes things much more difficult for Israel in the target area, but not impossible IMO.


DA

Agreed that there are always options, as well as countermeasures.  At the end of my earlier post I said "air/sea" and purposely did not include "land."  That was my way of not discounting special operations forces.  I'm not sure about UAV use, as I'm not particularly familiar with any Israeli long-range designs, although again there could be some more clandestine way of infiltrating some short-ranged UAVs.  But either way, they still need to deliver munitions (or go kamikaze) and at that point the SA-15 potentially could intercept the weapons just as it might destroy piloted-aircraft-delivered-munitions.  However, I'm sure the typical sort of electronic countermeasures and anti-radiation missiles used against other radar-guided SAMs could have good effect against the SA-15 as well.  Another approach would be for Israel to develop some LO weapons to reduce the probability of successful intercept by the SA-15 batteries.  I guess I was thinking of a relatively comprehensive target list that includes SRBM launch sites and storage facilities, NBC warhead storage facilities, and nuclear research facilities.  I doubt such a strike or series of strikes could be adequately serviced by anything less than a substantial airstike.  However, a less comprehensive target list certainly could still be attack by other means.


I focused on the land part because of Israel's colorful special operations history and also because their are land routes to Iran from Israel. Your points are still well taken and even with the use of land forces the TOR-M1 does make it more difficult for the Israeli's. Heck even without the TOR-M1, 1500km distance still makes this almost mission impossible for the IDF/AF. But still, imagine this:

A convoy of trucks, contractors working for the Iraqi Gov, escorted by a private security firm traverse the Iraqi desert. Some of the trucks are hauling MLRS vehicles to various depot level repair shops. Meanwhile at sea a container ship transiting the straight of Hormuz moves closer to Iran. IDF AH-64's and Utility Helicopters hop across multiple FARPs as they close on the Iraqi/Iranian border...

In Iran, IDF commandos keep constant HUMINT surveillance on various Iranian targets, some trained as snipers move their .50 Cal sniper weapons withing range of air defense assets and others make ready to sever key C4ISR nodes. High above in space IDF satellites watch the battlespace below and facilitate real time comms...

...When the time is right and the order is given, Iranian commanders lose contact with adjacent units, Tehran and nearby TOR-M1 units either fail to fire or mysteriously explode when loitering ARM UAVs dive into them. Explosions are heard and then the roar of jet engines screams in the distance as F-15s and F-16s launched hours earlier race toward their initial targets...ect ect...


Forgive the clancyish nature of this post and I know there is much more to it. However, considering the risk a nuclear Iran poses to Israel and the demonstrated capabilities of IDF planners I dont think some variation of it is so far fetched.


DA



http://www.israeli-weapons.com/weapons/aircraft/uav/harpy/harpy_b.jpg">


 
 
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YelliChink       11/28/2006 2:11:12 PM
 
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DarthAmerica       11/28/2006 2:40:25 PM


Could you imagine the panic of detecting 20 to 50 MRBMs on a ballistic trajectory from Israel to Iran? DJ probably knows better than most Iranian air defense capabilities but I'll guess that they probably wouldn't know until too late and most likely have no defense.

 
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displacedjim       11/28/2006 5:43:13 PM







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There are better way of doing jobs like that.




Could you imagine the panic of detecting 20 to 50 MRBMs on a ballistic trajectory from Israel to Iran? DJ probably knows better than most Iranian air defense capabilities but I'll guess that they probably wouldn't know until too late and most likely have no defense.



Here's my two cents on that.  As enjoyable as that image might be, I question whether any of their radars are set up properly to even detect MRBMs.  I think it is typical for early warning radars to have minimum and maximum velocity gates set in the neighborhood of a couple hundred kph and several thousand kph, respectively, and MRBMs are going to be screaming in at something like 6000kph or more.  I'm sure they have no ATBM capability.  Their only possible reaction to Jericos would be to try to shoot back with whatever's left after the Israeli first(follow-up) strike(s) ended.  That could change if/when they ever finally get some S-300PMU-2s, but as of today they have no such defense.
 
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french stratege       11/29/2006 12:43:59 PM
If Iranian buy Thor M1 , it is more to access to latest russian technology in order to copy it and it is why they buy a limited number of systems.
BTW they have already a broad spectrum of indigneous made anti air missiles from medium range (it seems they have a indigeneous copy of hawk PIP and an other one), short range (a derivative of Chinese copy of french crotale) , an Misagh 2 ( a short range system similar to Stinger).All of them deployed in thousands numbers now.
They try or already deploy a C4ISR system integrating air defense.
Thor M1 add an interesting limited capacity to existing Iranian air defense and add in complexity to inhibate it (as more you have different and redundant  system , more it is difficult to destroy it) especially around some high value targets (or supposed to be high value in order to mask first value sites).But their primary goal is to do like Chinese: buy a limited number of systems then copy them to get your indigeneous made system.
It will be the first vertical lauched system avaliable for Iranians and so a nice system to acquire this technology.
 
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KlubMarcus       2/10/2007 12:54:58 AM
No, no, no, that is not a WMD site. It is a electric generation station to enhance the wealth and tranquility of the iranian people. ;-)
Why would you want to have your presumably secret nuke site conveniently pointed out to your enemy by stationing SAMs around it?






 
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