Just two weeks after Saudi Arabia’s biggest-ever military drill, Iran unveiled an impressive range of new weapons as part of a special, private arms expo.
The expo had just one main guest—Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. The highest-ranking officers in Iranian armed forces were present to explain to their leader the capabilities of new sensors, missiles and unmanned vehicles.
The exhibition’s star was a full-size copy of America’s RQ-170 drone, one of which crashed on the Afghanistan-Iran border in late 2011, ending up in Iranian hands.
Also present was a new wheeled launch vehicle for old, Soviet-designed SA-6 air-defense missiles, complete with enhanced electronics. SA-6 launchers traditionally are tracked vehicles. The new system is similar to India’s Akash project.
Next to the new SA-6 launcher were two unnamed new sensor systems, each with one main tracking radar with a circular dish, sharing the same geometry as the original Straight Flush radar associated with the SA-6.
Each radar sported three electro-optical targeting devices—one on top of the main sensor and two beside it, depicted here. The EO back-ups suggest the newly enhanced SA-6 system is optimized for detecting and tracking stealth aircraft.
Farther along the display were a Russian KASTA 2KE2 radar and a Chinese Type-120. The radars are the main sensors for of S-300/400 and HQ-12 air defense systems, respectively. Both are designed to shoot down stealthy targets such as the latest American warplanes and American and British cruise missiles.
The radars emit unusually long-length waves to eliminate the usual advantages of traditional stealth shaping. The Type-120 uses the L-band centimeter waves, which is highly accurate but only moderately capable of detecting stealth. KASTA, by contrast, relies on U/VHF-band meter waves—effective against nearly all sizes of stealth targets but is less accurate than the Type-120.
Arab Gulf states, it’s worth noting, are eager to acquire U.S.- and U.K.-made stealth cruise missiles for potential use in any war with Iran.
In addition to the defensive gear, the Ayatollah’s expo included many offensive weapons, as well. In front of the well-known Sedjl ballistic missile, Iran for the first time displayed a land-attack cruise missile.
The Ya Ali cruise missile has a primitive wing-booster configuration that’s not suited for container launchers, like the Chinese CM-602 missile is. The Iranian missile also doesn’t appear to have any electro-optical element, raising big questions about its accuracy.
The Ya Ali missile is said to carry a 250-kilogram warhead up to 700 kilometers.
Beside the cruise missile, the expo organizers had laid out several other new guided munitions. The 250-kilogram Ra’ad-301 bomb reportedly possesses combined GPS-inertial-laser guidance, making it potentially very accurate.
Iran uses Su-25 attack jets along with turboprop EMB-312 Tucanos and Karar drones to deliver 250-kilogram ordnance.
Near the Ra’ad-301 bomb lay a new guided version of the infamous Fadjr-5 rocket. The 333-millimeter rocket—with a 250-kilogram warhead and a range of 75 kilometer—is a fixture of fighting in Lebanon, Gaza and Syria.
Israel developed its Iron Dome system in part to shoot down Hezbollah’s Fadjr-5s at the tail end of its interception capabilities. Now with guidance, the improved rocket could pose a serious threat to the Jewish state.
Iron Dome tracks incoming rockets, predicts which one pose a threat to civilians and targets only them. Guided Fadjr-5s can change their course toward populated areas in the last seconds of flight, potentially evading Iron Dome’s missiles.
Israeli Maj. Gen. Yari Golan confirmed in an interview with Al Jazeera that Hezbollah has received some of the guided rockets via Syria in recent months.
Beyond the guided Fadjr-5 was a new short-range ballistic missile called Hormuz, a guided version of the old Zelzal rocket. The missile has two variants, both with a range of more than 300 kilometers, according to Iranian Brig. Gen. Haji Zadeh.
Hormuz-1 is a ballistic anti-radiation missile dedicated to targeting air-defense radars at sea or on land. Hormuz-2 is an anti-ship missile with an active radar-homing system. The expo included footage of Hormuz-1 testing against a radar transmitter, depicted below.
It seems unlikely that Hormuz will be terribly effective against modern air-defense systems such as the U.S. Patriot. To successfully suppress enemy air defenses requires a electronic surveillance and jamming, decoys and signal analysis to rule out fake targets. Actually launching a radar-homing missiles is just the last step—and Iran is not known to have mastered the others.
The most interesting thing about Hormuz is its cluster warhead, one of the first ever to come out of Iran. Hormuz seems to be compatible with two cluster warheads—the first with 30 freefall bomblets each weighing 17 kilograms, the second with eight guided munitions each of around 90 kilograms.
Three generation of the Iranian Ra’ad system were on display. Ra’ad is a license production of the Russian Buk-M1/2 air-defense system, which includes missiles launchers and radars. The Iranian version carries three missiles, each having a maximum range of 50 kilometers.
The Tabas version of the launcher with the big white radar dome resembles the older Buk-M1—NATO code name SA-11—while the Sevome-Khordad with its Active Electronically Scanned Array radar is closer to the modern Buk-M2E, NATO code name SA-17. There is also an unnamed launcher with only electro-optical tracking systems.
As tensions mount between Iran and Saudi Arabia, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is headed to the Middle East for a conference with Arab states regarding Iran.
Meanwhile Saudi foreign minster Saud Al Feisal has called upon his Iranian counterpart to visit Saudi Arabia to solve “differences of opinions” between the two countries. Iranian foreign minster Mohammad Javad Zarif hasn’t yet replied to the Saudi request.