Iran’s Air Defense: Insights into Systems, Operations, and Deployment


In a comprehensive interview with the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency, Brigadier General Alireza Elhami, the Deputy Commander of the Iranian Army’s Air Defense Force (IRIADF), provided detailed insights into Iran’s air defense systems and their operational perceptions in countering the threats faced by Iran. These insights shed light on Iran’s evolving air defense capabilities and its strategic approach to safeguarding its airspace and regional assets, including deploying certain air defense systems to Syria.

Iran perceives several threats in its region, including attacks from neighboring countries, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as a potential wider conflict with the United States. Iran is concerned about potential airstrikes, missile attacks, and drone incursions. Iran has developed a multi-layered air defense system that includes various missile systems, radar networks- including over-the-horizon (OTH) and phased-array radars- for surveillance and early warning- attack and surveillance drones and anti-aircraft artillery. Iran has a diverse air defense system comprising domestically produced and imported systems.

Elhami disclosed that the Karrar drone has been outfitted with a “100% Iranian engine” and has an advanced “airborne radar” system, information gathering systems, electronic warfare systems, and optical and combat identification technology. He said that ultimate aim is to equip the Karar drone with air-to-air missiles, providing it with the capability to engage aerial threats when integrated into the comprehensive air defense network.

Elhami elaborated that the Karrar drone has been actively safeguarding Iran’s airspace over key regions, including the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Oman Sea over the past two years. During these missions, it successfully intercepted and deterred multiple foreign aircraft, including but not limited to an American P-8 reconnaissance aircraft, a US RQ-4 Global Hawk drone, and various fighter jets from other nations. The Karrar drone, powered by a domestically developed engine, enforced its aerial dominance by continuously flying at higher altitudes than the intruding aircraft. Elhami said armed drones are a growing concern for Iran, and its air defense systems are prepared to engage and neutralize this threat.

Elhami referred to the Bavar-373 long-range, surface-to-air missile system and said that The Defense Force is collaborating with Iranian scientists from the Ministry of Defense within a joint research initiative aimed at extending the engagement range of the system to encompass distances exceeding 400 kilometers. He added that Iranian Air Force (IRIAF) has successfully engaged targets at approximately 304 km and nearly 305 km using the Bavar system, adding that “only a limited number of countries possess the air defense capabilities to precisely intercept targets at such a remarkable range of 300 km “.

Elhami stated, “There is no room for doubt that the Bavar 373 system excels the (Russian) S-300 model across various technical, operational, and parameter aspects. This assertion has been substantiated through practical demonstrations in the field”. Nevertheless, he added, the S-300 is deployed in various locations and is part of the integrated air defense network.

He explained that operational integration entails the establishment of seamless data exchange between the S-300 and Bavar systems, enabling them to harness each other’s missile capabilities adding that integration significantly enhances operational versatility for air defense combatants and integrated network commanders, ensuring optimal flexibility in executing their missions. The Bavar-373 primarily serves as a complementary addition to the existing S-300 systems, augmenting Iran’s air defense capabilities with medium-range coverage specifically aimed at safeguarding critical infrastructure and military installations. This strategic deployment underscores Iran’s commitment to fortifying its national defense posture in the face of evolving regional security challenges.

Following the termination of the S-300 deal with Russia in 2010, Iran unveiled its ambitious plan to independently develop a domestic air defense system known as the Bavar-373. The system design and development represent a substantial service life extension of the pre-existing S-200 systems.

Deputy Commander of the IRIADF also touched upon the Sayyad solid-propellant missile air defense system, often referred to as the “Tactical Hunter,” and said that it was designed for rapid deployment, allowing it to be swiftly positioned in a designated operational location as needed and has a range of coverage extending from 75 kilometers to 150 kilometers and its planned for longer range. Iran unveiled the longer-range Sayyad-4B surface-to-air missile for its Bavar-373 air-defense system in November 2022. The Sayyad systems are intended to provide mid-range air defense capabilities

According to Tasnim,2,500 the Sayyad’ can detect 24 targets at a distance of 180 kilometers and simultaneously engage 12 targets. For the first time, Iran unveiled a replica of the Tactical Sayyad air defense system at the International Military Forum ARMY-2023 held in Russia.

Elhami also referred to the (OTH) Sepehr’s radars and said that primarily, such radars often surpass 2500 to 3,000 kilometers, but Iran’s objective is to enhance the Sepehr capabilities, pushing its range to an impressive 3,000 kilometers/

Some air defense systems are deployed to Syria and possibly Lebanon, where IRGC’s units are near the airfields to try and deal with continued Israeli air strikes against Iranian and Hizballah assets. Iran also assists Syria in rehabilitating its air defense systems and forces. Some of the air defense systems mentioned in the interview – Sayyad and Bavar-373 – are deployed to Syria. Davoud Jafari, IRGC Aerospace Force Colonel Commander of Iran’s air defense efforts in Syria, was killed in November 2022 by a roadside bomb near Damascus.

​Iran Dossier “Iran intercepted and deterred multiple foreign aircraft.” 

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