Global Insights: Russia, Iran, and Washington Battle Over S-300s

Global Insights: Russia, Iran, and Washington Battle Over S-300s

Will Russia supply Iran with the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile system? That is the most important -- and persistent -- question regarding Russia's ongoing arms sales to Iran. The repeated rumors and confusion regarding a possible sale indicate that Russian policymakers are divided over the issue. It also illustrates the degree of mistrust between the Russian and Iranian national security communities over the subject of bilateral arms transfers in general, and disagreement over the extent to which Moscow should support Iranian defense aspirations over American and Israeli objections in particular.

The "S-300" family encompasses a range of specific models that the USSR and Russia have manufactured for the last three decades. They have varying capabilities, with the most advanced version (the truck-mounted S-300PMU1, designated as the SA-20 Gargoyle by NATO countries), capable of tracking and firing several interceptor missiles at multiple targets --including both cruise missiles and aircraft -- over a hundred kilometers away.

The Iranians have been seeking to buy the S-300 since Russia resumed arms sales to Iran in early 2001. An S-300 missile battery typically consists of a command and control center, a target acquisition radar as well as a target engagement radar, and as many as a dozen launch vehicles that can each shoot four interceptor missiles stored in cylindrical containers. The current negotiations apparently involve a contract to deliver some 40-60 launch systems, each with four individual interceptor missile tubes, as well as the associated radar and command-and-control systems.

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