Brig. Gen. Lihu HaCohen says tackling the air defense system Russia is slated to sell to Iran is a scenario the IAF is training for.

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Brig. Gen. Lihu HaCohen

The Israeli army on Wednesday offered its first reaction to the Russian sale of an advanced air defense system to Iran, characterizing the S-300 missile system as an obstacle, but one that can be overcome.

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“The S-300 is a challenge,” Brig. Gen. Lihu HaCohen, the commander of the Nevatim Air Base, told a group of reporters. “The Air Force is preparing for an array of scenarios, including with this system. In the event that it will need to provide a response, the Air Force will know how to respond to the challenge.”

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Russia has promised the system to three states in the region – Iran, Syria and Egypt. It is unclear what model S-300 is being offered, but were it to be placed in Syria, on Israel’s border, it would represent a constant threat to aircraft in the center of the country.

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IAF veterans suggested earlier this week that the arrival of the system in Iran would complicate any potential Israeli air strike against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities, but not seal the skies.

A Russian air-defense missile system Antey 2500, or S-300 VM, is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, August 27, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Ivan Sekretarev, File)
the S-300 missile system

“If the Israeli Air Force had the ability to act against Iran’s nuclear facilities before the S-300, then it will have it afterward, too,” said retired IAF general Asaf Agmon, head of the Fischer Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies.

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The acquisition, however, would force Israel to devote vast amounts of electronic warfare capacity against such a system and to invest in weapons that could combat it, further complicating any strike against Iran and, potentially, raising the toll in human life if such a strike were to be ordered.

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Agmon said Iranian air defense teams have been training on the Russian system since the deal was initially made in 2007 and that, if it is delivered to Iran, it would take only weeks for it to be made operational.

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Another concern, he said, is that once such a system has been passed on to Iran, it might be transferred to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces or those of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon.

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HaCohen spoke as the IAF welcomed the arrival of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 demo flight simulator in Nevatim Air Base. The first pair of the next-generation jets are set to arrive in Israel in December 2016.

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Israel plans to purchase two squadrons of 25 jets each, but has thus far ordered only 33, with the Ministerial Committee on Defense Procurement nixing the Defense Ministry’s request for the full 50 airplanes.

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“The government doesn’t have to be a rubber stamp for the defense establishment,” Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said in February.

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Steve Over, Director, F-35 International Business Development, said that the F-35 is equipped to handle advanced air defense systems.

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“When developing the program, we took in consideration future threats such as the S-300 and developed technologies to deal with them,” he said in an email, noting the aircraft’s stealth and its
specially developed sensors, which are designed to pick up enemy radar.

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Profile: Russia’s S-300 missile system

The BBC News website profiles Russia’s S-300 surface-to-air missile system, components of which have been delivered to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

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In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin said shipments had been suspended, but that if the US and its allies intervened militarily in Syria, Moscow would « think how we should act in the future ».

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The S-300 is a series of highly capable, long-range surface-to-air missile complexes first deployed in the USSR in 1979 and later modified by the Russian armed forces.

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As well as targeting aircraft, the fully mobile units have the capacity to engage ballistic missiles.

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Experts believe that Russia is most likely delivering the S-300PMU-2 systems – also known by the Nato codename SA-20 – which were first introduced in 1997 and are comparable to the US Patriot Air and Missile Defense System.

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The Russian batteries are made by a state-run company, Almaz-Antei, which last year announced it was stopping the production of the S-300s and switching resources to the more advanced S-400s.

How the Russian S-300PMU-2 missile defence system works.

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  1. The long-range surveillance radar tracks objects over a range of 300km (185 miles) and relays information to the command vehicle, which assesses potential targets
  2. A target is identified and the command vehicle orders the engagement radar to launch missiles
  3. Launch data is sent to the best placed of the battalion’s six launch vehicles and it releases two surface-to-air missiles
  4. The engagement radar helps guide the missiles towards the target. It can guide up to 12 missiles simultaneously, engaging up to six targets at once

The vehicle used as a launcher is currently manufactured at the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT) in Belarus, although Russia is now shifting the production to its western city of Bryansk.

Russian S-300PMU system specification

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  • Specification: Each launcher vehicle carries four missile containers (two missiles per target). A full battalion includes six launcher vehicles with a total of 24 missiles, plus command-and-control and long-range radar detection vehicles
  • Special feature: Fires two missiles vertically within 3 seconds, making it versatile and accurate – the so-called « cold launch » method
  • Capability: Russian 48N6E are the standard missiles fired from S-300PMU launchers. They have a range of 5-150km (3-93 miles) at a maximum altitude of 27-30km (17-19 miles).
  • Response time: Vehicle stopping to missile firing is five minutes

Source: Royal United Services Institute

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