“The Iranians are on contract for SA-20,” says a senior, U.S. government official. The U.S. and Israel now face a “huge set of challenges in the future that we’ve never had [before]. We’ve been lulled into a false sense of security because our operations over the last 20 years involved complete air dominance and we’ve been free to operate in all domains,” he adds.
Other senior officials independently confirm that Iran will get the Russian SA-20 strategic SAM system, irrespective of Kremlin protestations to the contrary. Tehran’s deployment of such a system would mark a step-up in capability, and considerably improve the country’s ability to defend its controversial nuclear facilities where the West remains concerned that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability.
The proliferation of so-called double-digit surface-to-air missile systems – such as the Almaz Antey SA-20 (S-300PMU1/S-300PMU2) – poses an increasing threat to non-stealthy aircraft, and will force changes in tactics and operational planning. The SA-20 has an engagement envelope of up to 150 kilometers; and Iran may be signed up for the S-300PMU-2 variant of the system.
Russia could use Byelorussia as the route for a sale, allowing it to deny any direct involvement, says a U.S. official. It would likely take the Iranian armed forces some time, as much as 22 months, to become proficient in the operation of the SA-20, however, any deal would almost certainly cover training support of the system in the interim. Analysts suggest ships delivering the missiles and the training, support and assembly areas could become targets.
Janes Defence News reported earlier in the year that Byelorussia was exporting the S-300 to Iran. Russia recently defended its sales of defensive weapons to Iran.