Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Missile Test

Iran has successfully tested its recently-acquired TOR-M1 air defense system, according to state-run television and the stenographers at AFP.

I'll lump AFP into that less-than-distinguished school of journalism, because their story on the event has at least one major error. Check out their "file photo" of the TOR-M1 (NATO designator: SA-15/GAUNTLET) that accompanied the article. There's a little problem with that photograph --it isn't an SA-15. It's a picture of an older SA-11/GADFLY surface-to-air missile system, which is not in the Iranian inventory. Here's a picture of an SA-15; you'll note the "lack" of external missiles on that system. That's because the missiles are stored internally, for additional protection against the elements and potential battle damage. BTW, my apologies for not posting the photos directly in the blog, but the "picture" feature of Blogger isn't working, at least on my computer.

There is a noticeable difference in performance between the SA-15 and the SA-11. Both are modern SAM systems, but the GADFLY has roughly three to four times the range of the SA-15. The GAUNTLET is designed (primarily) for short-range and point defense of high value targets, while the SA-11 was originally envisioned as a replacement for the SA-6/GAINFUL, optimized for defense of armored formations and troops on the move.

I'm also a little skeptical about the "successful" test results, until I have a chance to watch the video. Watching video of missile tests, you'll typically see a shot of the missile leaving the launcher, with a quick cut to the "close-up" of the missile destroying the target. The SA-15 is more than capable of engaging a variety of targets (including tactical aircraft and cruise missiles), but given Iran's recent history of exaggerated claims, it's not beyond them to play a little "cut and paste" with the test video. I'll withhold final judgment until I see the tape.

Additionally, here are a couple of additional points to watch for in test videos. More often than not, the target drone is flying straight and level, with no maneuvering--in other words, a cooperative target that's much easier to hit. And, there's no mention of jamming or electronic countermeasures (ECM) in the test. The SA-15 has excellent capabilities in countering ECM, but (once again), it makes for an easier shot if the target isn't trying to jam your radar. Finally, there's the question of how much Russian support was required for the test; extensive contractor support would indicate potentially low proficiency levels among Iranian crews, decreasing their chances for success in combat.

Make no mistake; acquisition of the SA-15 represents a major upgrade for Iran's air defense system. But crew competency and operational proficiency have yet to be fully demonstrated. Any assessment of Tehran's capabilities with the new system must wait for more observation--and analysis--of SA-15 training and operational patterns.


tarpon said...

questions ..

If I read the specs right the max height engagement is 33000 feet. What prevents the attacker from simply flying at say 50000 feet to evade the missiles?

What about JASM cruise missiles, aren't they stealthy?

I wonder if they could see a F-22?

Unknown said...

Overflight is always an option, but the tradeoff is in bombing accurary, although a B-2 is pretty darned accurate from 40,000 feet and above.

Cruise missiles are stealthy, and they fly in the weeds, making it more difficult to detect and engage. That's why a system like the SA-15 is most effective in a fully modern IADS, with cueing information from advanced radars/other detection systems, and processed/disseminated through an automated C2 network. Unfortunately for Iran, the early warning detection/C2 side of their air defense network is lacking. The SA-15s will probably have to operate on their own, decreasing their effectivness.

As far as "seeing" an F-22, that gets into some very sensitive data. Suffice it to say that a Raptor in "full-up" LO mode would be much harder to detect than a conventional aircraft.

tarpon said...

Thanks for the thorough answer to my questions.

One more, why would accuracy be a problem for GPS guided bombs? wouldn't they be as accurate if dropped from 50,000 as they would if dropped lower?

It would seem to me that JASSM would be the perfect answer.

davod said...

Any chance that the Russians or a surrogate are manning the weapons.