The Russian General Staff has reinforced the air defences for Russians at the Iranian nuclear reactor complex at Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf, according to sources in Moscow. At the same time, Iran has allowed filming of the movement of several of its mobile S-300 air-defence missile batteries to the south, covering the Iranian coastline of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. More secretly, elements of Russian military intelligence, electronic warfare, and command and control advisers for Iran’s air defence systems have been mobilized to support Iran against US and allied attacks.
The range of the new surveillance extends well beyond the S-300 strike distance of 200 kilometres, and covers US drone and aircraft bases on the Arabian peninsula, as well as US warships in (and under) the Persian Gulf and off the Gulf of Oman. Early warning of US air and naval-launched attacks has now been cut below the old 4 to 6-minute Iranian threshold. Counter-firing by the Iranian armed forces has been automated from attack warning and target location.
This means that if the US is detected launching a swarm of missiles aimed at Iran’s air-defence sites, uranium mines, reactors, and military operations bunkers, Iran will launch its own swarm of missiles at the US firing platforms, as well as at Saudi and other oil production sites, refineries, and pipelines, as well tankers in ports and under way in the Gulf.
“The armed forces of Iran,” said a Russian military source requesting anonymity, “have air defence systems capable of hitting air targets at those heights at which drones of the Global Hawk series can fly; this is about 19,000 to 20,000 metres. Iran’s means of air defence are both foreign-purchased systems and systems of Iran’s own design; among them, in particular, the old Soviet system S-75 and the new Russian S-300. Recently, Iran transported some S-300’s to the south, but that happened after the drone was shot down [June 20]. Russian specialists are working at Bushehr now and this means that the S-300’s are also for protection of Bushehr.”
Last Thursday, June 20, just after midnight, a US Global Hawk drone was tracked by Iran from its launch at an airbase in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), south of Dubai. The take-off and initial flight route appear to have been more than 300 kms from Iranian tracking radars. Four hours later, the aircraft was destroyed by an Iranian missile at a point at sea off Kuhmobarak. Follow the route tracking data published by the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif here.
KEY: blue line=drone flight path; yellow line=Iranian Flight Information Region (FIR); red line=Iranian territorial waters; green line=Iranian internal waters; yellow dots=Iran radio warnings sent; red square=point of impact. Source: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif: https://twitter.com/The US claims the point of impact was outside the red line.
The Russian military source says there is now active coordination between Russian and Iranian military staffs. “About coordination, of course there is participation of Russia in intelligence-sharing because of Bushehr and ISIS. We have a long and successful partnership with Iran, especially in terms of fighting against international terrorism.” Two days after the drone incident, Russian specialist media publishedIranian video footage of the movement of S-300’s on trailer trucks. This report claims that although the S-300’s are wheeled and motorized for rapid position changes, the use of highway transporters was intended to minimize road fatigue on the weapons.
Iranian military sources have told western reporters they have established “a joint operations room to inform all its allies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan of every step it is adopting in confronting the US in case of all-out war in the Middle East.”
Maps published to date in open Russian military sources show the four main anti-air missile defence groups (PVO) on Iranian territory, and the strike range of their missiles. The 3rd and 4th PVOs are now being reinforced to oppose US reinforcements at sea and on Saudi and Emirati territory.
Key: yellow=units of the main air-defence (PVO) groups; split blue circles=military bases; blue diamond=nuclear industry sites; red rings=kill range for missiles; solid red=command-and-control operations centres. Source: Anatoly Gavrilov, “Before the storm”, National Defence,April 2019
The weaknesses and vulnerabilities of Iranian defences against US air attack are, naturally, state secrets. The open-source discussion by Russian air-defence expert Anatoly Gavrilov can be followed here. According to Gavrilov writing in March, the expected plan of US attack will be the use of precision missiles and bombs at “primary targets…plants for the production and processing of nuclear fuel, uranium mines, production for its enrichment, refineries, other industrial centers. But initially [the objective] will be to suppress (completely destroy) the air defense system. The mass use of cruise missiles for various purposes and guided aircraft bombs will disable the control system of Iran’s troops and suppress the system of reconnaissance and anti-aircraft missile fire. In this case, the task of the attacking side will be the destruction in the first two or three days of 70% to 80% of the radar, and after that, up to 90%… manned aircraft will begin to bomb only after the complete suppression of the air defense system. The West protects its professional pilots, and it does not matter that the civilian population of Iran will also suffer.”
The main Iranian vulnerability facing American attack, reports Gavrilov, is less the range, volume and density of firepower with which the Iranians can respond than the relatively slow time they have shown to date for processing incoming attack data, fixing targets, and directing counter-fire. “In today’s conditions of organization and conduct of rapid air combat, a high degree of automation of the processes of collection, processing, transmission and exchange of radar information, development of solutions for repelling strikes, and conducting anti-aircraft missile fire is extremely necessary.”
Gavrilov does not estimate how far the Iranians have been able to solve by themselves, and with Russian help, the problems of automation and coordination of fire. To offset whatever weakness may remain, he recommends specific technical contributions the Russians can make. These include the technology of electronic countermeasures (ECM) to jam or deflect US targeting signals and ordnance guidance systems.
While Gavrilov believes the Iranian military have already achieved high enough density of fire against incoming weapons, he isn’t sure the range and altitude of Iranian radars will be good enough to match the attack risks. To neutralize those, he recommends “Russian-made electronic warfare systems. The complex of EW systems is able to significantly reduce the ability of attack aircraft to search for, detect and defeat ground targets; disrupt the onboard equipment of cruise missiles in the GPS satellite navigation system; distort the readings of radio altimeters of attack aircraft, cruise missiles and UAV’s [unmanned aerial vehicle, drone]…”
In briefings for sympathetic western reporters, Iranian commanders are emphasizing the Armageddon option; that is, however weak or strong their defences may prove to be under prolonged US attack, the Iranian strategy is not to wait. Their plan, they say, is to counter-attack against Arab as well as American targets as soon as a US missile attack commences; that’s to say, at launch, not inflight nor at impact.
The day following the US attack and Iranian success, President Vladimir Putin chaired a meeting of his regular Security Council members in Moscow. The military were represented by the Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu. The US attack on Iran was the main issue on the table. “The participants,” reported the Kremlin communiqué, “discussed, in particular, the developments in the Persian Gulf. They expressed serious concern over the rising tension and urged the countries involved to show restraint, because unwise actions could have unpredictable consequences in terms of regional and global stability.”
Unpredictable consequences in Russian is being translated in Farsi to mean the cessation of the oil trade in the Persian Gulf. “As oil and commodities of other countries are passing through the Strait of Hormuz, ours are also moving through it,” Major General Mohammad Baqeri, the Iranian chief of staff, said on April 28. “If our crude is not to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, others’ [crude] will not pass either.”