Air Defense: Another Iranian Triumph


April 13, 2010: Iran announced that it has developed a new anti-aircraft missile system, based on the half century old American Hawk system. The U.S. sold Iran Hawk systems in the 1970s, and Iran has tried to keep these in service ever since. It is believed that Iran obtained key components for their new missile system from China. Iran says it is manufacturing and deploying their new system.

Four years ago, Iran claimed to have modified Hawk anti-aircraft missiles to be fired from F-14 aircraft, as an air-to-air missile. In theory it's possible, but practicality is another matter. Iran received F-14s from the United States in the 1970s, the only export customer for this U.S. Navy fighter.

The 1970s era Hawk missiles the Iranians have are probably no longer fit for use, as none of the components, especially the solid rocket fuel, lasts that long. But it is possible that the Iranians have managed to keep these missiles working via smuggled, Chinese manufactured or homemade, parts. The Hawk is a 17 foot long, 1,300 pound missile, with a range (when fired from the ground) of some 40 kilometers. Fired in air-to-air mode, it could go 100 kilometers or more.

Consider that the F-14 was designed to fire the Phoenix missile, which was 13 feet long, weighed 1,000 pounds and had a range of nearly 200 kilometers. None of the Phoenix missiles Iran had in the late 1970s, are believed to be still operational. Indeed, the U.S. technicians who were maintaining the Iranian missiles, apparently disabled them before they left the country. The new Iranian government never got their Phoenix missiles working, although they claim they did, and claim to have built their own copies of the Phoenix. These mythical missiles have never been used in a confirmed combat situation, even during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.

Both the Hawk and Phoenix have the same type of guidance system (semi-active radar homing.) Basically, the missile homes in on the radar signals, from a ground or airborne radar, bouncing off the target. So, in theory, the Iranians could have modified Iranian made Hawks to use the F-14 radar.

However, there's something else to consider. If you go back and look at the many Iranian announcements of newly developed, high tech, weapons, all you find is a photo op for a prototype. Production versions of these weapons rarely show up.   Iranians know that, while the clerics and politicians talk a tough game, they rarely do anything. Even Iranian support of Islamic terrorism has been far less effective than the rhetoric. The Iranians have always been cautious, which is one reason Arabs fear them. When the Iranians do make their move, it tends to be decisive. But at the moment, the Iranians have no means to make a decisive move. Their military is mostly myth, having been run down by decades of sanctions, and the disruptions of the 1980s war with Iraq. Their most effective weapon is bluster, and, so far, it appears to be working.

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