Russia’s S-400 systems close “the entire sky over Iran” to stop F-35 Stealth fighters

MOSCOW, (BM) – In light of rising tensions between Iran and the United States following the latter’s withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear deal in 2018, which subsequently escalated after the assassination of Iranian Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, Russia has considered providing Iran with more capable air defence systems.

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A number of Western new outlets reported in 2019 that Russia had refused an Iranian request to acquire the S-400, one of its two foremost long ranged surface to air missile systems, although this was sharply refuted Moscow which stressed that it was willing to consider a contract should Iran request it.

Iran has indicated an interest in an S-400 acquisition, and possibly acquisitions of high end Russian hardware primarily for the purpose of air defence including heavyweight fighter jets. It is unclear under what conditions Russia would provide the S-400 to Iran, and whether it would be willing to provide it as part of a barter trade deal or provide a partial loan from the sale.

Such terms could be offered, in the interests of providing Iran with a greater defensive capability to deter potential attacks by the U.S. and its allies and establish more equal of a balance of power in the region – for which small concessions on the terms of the contract may be a small price to pay for Moscow.

Iran currently deploys a number of long ranged air defence systems, including the Russian S-300PMU-2 – a predecessor to the S-400. The S-300 batteries were acquired heavily customised, and their capabilities are thought to be far superior to the standard PMU-2 model which completed development 20 years before the delivery to Iran was made in 2017.

The country also deploys a number of indigenous long ranged systems, including the Bavar-373 and the Khordad 15, alongside the most advanced late Soviet-era variants of the S-200. These compensate for the underwhelming air to air combat capabilities of the Iranian Air Force.

Russian lawmakers have in the past advocated providing Iran with advanced long ranged systems, with the leader of Russia’s Liberal Democratic Party most recently stating following General Soleimani’s assassination that Moscow needed to “offer Iran an agreement on military cooperation and urgently sell the most modern weapons so that no one dares throw anything in the direction of Iran” – expressing confidence that the S-400 and possibly even the S-500 missile systems would be able to “close the entire sky over Iran.”

S-500 prototypes are currently in service in Russia, although export of these systems has yet to be discussed. The platform is designed for a different role to the S-400, namely engaging high value targets such as ballistic missiles and AWACS aircraft at extreme ranges. The U.S. and Israel, a close American defence partner which has also had tense relations with Iran, have both trained extensively to counter advanced Russian S-300 systems – using older P and PMU-1 variants acquired from Ukraine and Greece.

With F-35 stealth fighters, a new asset heavily relied on to penetrate advanced air defence network fielded by both states, still very far from ready for high intensity combat, options for an attack in the near term remain limited.

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Source: Military Watch Magazine