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International Defence Review - February 01, 2008
Iran set to acquire S-300PTs from Belarus
Iran is sourcing S-300 air-defence systems from Belarus
Iranian operators that have already been trained will undergo instruction to provide support domestically
Amid conflicting reports that Moscow has agreed to sell Iran a number of S-300 low-to-high altitude air-defence systems emerging at the end of 2007, Jane's has learned that Tehran is actually in the final stage of negotiations with Belarus for the acquisition of two surplus trailer-mounted towed S-300PT (SA-10A 'Grumble') systems.
These systems were, until recently, deployed near Minsk as part of Belarus's operational air-defence configuration, and include command-guided Fakel 5V55K missiles (with a range of 47 km) and the baseline 5V55R semi-active radar and Track Via Missile (TVM) guided missile (range 75 km).
Defence industrial sources in Belarus told Jane's that although the value of the contract has yet to be finalised, Belarusian negotiators are asking for USD140 million for the two systems (including parts, maintenance and training). The sources noted that while that figure is considered high for older S-300PT systems (the S-300PT entered Soviet service as far back as 1978), the inflated price reflects an awareness of Iran's urgent requirement for such systems and its consequent willingness to pay well, enhanced by the intense international scrutiny placed on Tehran's efforts to acquire missile technologies and the country's difficulty to fast-track acquisition of such systems from other sources.
Further, the price also reflects the risk involved for Minsk in releasing such systems to Tehran - particularly in its political relations with Moscow.
The sources confirmed that after the contract is finalised, the S-300PT systems would be transferred from Belarus to Iran in semi-knocked down (SKD) condition aboard a number of cargo aircraft. These flights will fall within the framework of the many regular flights (including military aircraft) between Iran and Belarus, and will include the transfer of spare system parts as required by Iran.
Belarusian engineers have recently completed the overhaul of two older S-300PT systems, believed to be hitherto inoperative S-300PTs acquired by Iran in the late 1990s from Belarus or Kazakhstan for a total of some USD6.5 million. In that case, the very low price reflects the fact that both systems were acquired in what the sources confirmed were a "faulty condition", which resulted in them being kept in storage until August 2007.
The systems were subsequently sent for overhaul and upgrade at an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) facility south of Tehran.
Specialists from the '2566 Radio Electronic Armament Repair Plant', a Belarusian surface-to-air missile (SAM) overhaul and upgrade plant located in Borisov, close to Minsk, and Tetraedr, another Belarusian specialist SAM overhaul works that has been involved in S-300 maintenance since as far back as 2003, were "actively involved in the S-300PT upgrade/repair programme at the IRGC facility".
According to the sources, Plant 2566 is part of the Russian-Belarusian Defence Systems Corporation, which, among other pursuits, manages a number of SAM production plants. Engineers attached to the plant were initially trained by Russian specialists to overhaul and maintain S-300 systems, but can now maintain the systems independently.
From July 2007, Belarus has embarked on a sustained programme to train "dozens" of Iranian crew members, including practical simulator training. According to the provisions of the contract now being finalised, Belarus will also provide training for Iranian engineers for "system maintenance, functionality checks and minor maintenance repairs" to support the systems in country.
Over the last two years, there has been a marked increase in co-operation between Tehran and Minsk, including the declaration of a strategic partnership.
During a visit to the MILEX-2007 exhibition in Minsk in May 2007, President Ahmadinejad led a sizeable delegation that included senior IRGC officials and advanced weapons specialists, who signed a number of procurement and military technological co-operation agreements. On 5 July 2007, President Lukashenko was quoted as promising Iran's Minister for Defence and Armed Forces Logistics, Muhammad Najjar, during a visit to Minsk, that Belarus would provide military assistance to Iran.
According to Jane's sources, the overhaul/upgrade of the two S-300PT systems and the forthcoming deal for two additional systems were undertaken without the knowledge of Russia, the original suppliers of the systems to Belarus.
However, regional diplomatic sources have confirmed that Iran is also seeking to acquire additional S-300 systems from Russia itself, as well as from Belarus, in disregard of Article 6 of UN Security Council Resolution 1747.
This calls on member states to "exercise vigilance and restraint in the supply, sale or transfer directly or indirectly from their territories or by their nationals or using their flag vessels or aircraft of any battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems as defined for the purpose of the UN Register on Conventional Arms to Iran, and in the provision of any technical assistance or training, financial assistance, investment, brokering or other services, and the transfer of financial resources or services related to the supply, sale, transfer, manufacture or use of such items in order to prevent establishing accumulation of arms".
Moscow has officially denied any deal with Iran, but diplomatic sources said that it is either "at a very advanced stage or may even have been completed and signed".
Tehran's desire to acquire Russian S-300 systems has been known since 2001 and there have been a number of negotiations between the countries for procurement of the system.
According to the sources, these negotiations have been accelerated in the past two years, with Iran counting on the fact that the scheduled operational commissioning of the newer S-400 system in Russia will free up S-300s for acquisition.
In the interim, the completion of the current deals with Belarus - the overhaul/upgrade of the two faulty systems and the procurement deal for two additional systems - will provide Iran with four S-300 battalions, with at least 12 launchers from the two later systems and an unknown number of launchers in its possession from the two upgraded systems.
Any additional systems that it might acquire from Russia, will, of course, augment this inventory, all of which are likely to be deployed around Iran's sites linked to Iran's sensitive nuclear programme.
The systems will also augment the Tor M1 (SA-15 'Gauntlet) road-mobile shelter-mounted low-to-medium SAM systems already acquired from Russia, final deliveries of which were completed in January 2007, in tandem with the potential acquisition from Russia, via Syria, of at least 10 Pantsyr-S1E short-range gun and missile air-defence systems as reported by Jane's in May 2007.
Along with the acquisition from Ukraine of Kolchuga passive early warning radar systems from Ukraine, and the indigenous production of "new medium- and long-range air defence and surveillance systems," as reported by the Iranian Ministry of Defence late last year, Tehran looks set to significantly improve its readiness in the face of potential air strikes against its nuclear facilities by the US and/or Israel.