Russia is delivering components of the advanced S-300 Surface to Air Missile (SAM) system to Iran. Proliferation of this system from Russia to Iran will fundamentally alter the strategic balance of power in the Middle East according to Senior Naval Analyst Chris Harmer.
FighterSweep sat down with Chris Harmer, Senior Naval Analyst (nonresident) for the Institute for the Study of War. He is one of the premier experts on analyzing the current and future military threat from Iran. Harmer has recently written an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) report for AEI’s Critical Threats Project on the S-300 Surface to Air Missile currently being procured by Iran from Russia.
His report and what he told FighterSweep is not good news for the US or its allies in the region. The prospect of going to war against an adversary with top tier SAM abilities is daunting.
Harmer argues that having the S-300 in the Mideast is a strategic game changer in the region. And it will be a challenge for not only the US, but its partners and allies.
The Russians and Iranians have been bargaining back and forth for years on the sale of the surface to air missile system. However, the tensions between Moscow and Tehran appear to have been resolved. Russia is now shipping components to Iran.
“Because the S-300 is modular and can function as part of an IADS or as a standalone firing unit, we may wind up in the same sort of Scud Hunting drill that we did in 1990 / 1991 in Western Iraq”, said Harmer.
The S-300 can be used against fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, unmanned aerial systems, short- and possibly medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and air-launched standoff weapons. In short, it’s a monster.
How Do You Defeat It?
It is an advanced system that is difficult to jam or spoof. Defeating the S-300 requires a combination of manned aircraft with various capabilities as well as standoff munitions Harmer notes.
“The US can take on an S-300 head to head, but this becomes the “alpha target”. It has to go before anything else happens,” he said.
“And it takes a lot of effort to get to it”.
The greater concern might be the lack of ability regional militaries have to go against such an advanced system.
Harmer’s report states that “Arab and Israeli militaries do not now have the capability to reliably defeat the S-300 with conventional means. That is particularly true if Iranian reports that Russia is delivering a more advanced version of the system are accurate.”
“None of our allies is even remotely in the game on this,” said Harmer. “None of the GCC countries have any idea how to handle this.”
Editor’s note: GCC is the Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and economic alliance of six Middle Eastern countries—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman
What is the solution?
Harmer says regional militaries will need to purchase the most advanced US airframes with SEAD and stealth technology and standoff weaponry. The ability to strike deep into Iran may be limited if they don’t have these capabilities. The end result if they don’t purchase advanced weaponry may mean that Iran has eliminated any chance of regional deterrence against it and its nuclear program.
Harmer notes that if regional militaries do purchase advanced weaponry, the S-300 deployment will have helped fuel a regional arms race.
Top Photo credit: Live firing of S-300PMU2 air defense missile system (armyrecognition.com)