Iran's home-grown surface-to-air missile shows new military aspirations

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani joins Defense Ministry officials at the unveiling of the Bavar 373 SAM system. (Photo: Tasnim)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani joins Defense Ministry officials at the unveiling of the Bavar 373 SAM system. (Photo: Tasnim)

The Islamic Republic of Iran officially unveiled the Bavar 373 system earlier this month. The system is supposedly a domestic long-range surface-to-air missile intended to provide area defense against aircraft and missiles.

According to a report by the Times of Israel, images released by Iranian state news agencies showed Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, and minister of defense, Hossein Dehghan in front of the system, which bears a strong superficial resemblance to the Soviet-era SA-10 “Grumble” (also known as the S-300).

The SA-10 was the Soviet Union’s main area-defense surface to air missile since it was entered service in 1978, and has continued in Russian service since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Depending on the version, it has a maximum range of up to 121 miles. The system has been constantly upgraded, and more modern versions, like the SA-20 and SA-21 are entering service with Russia.

“We did not intend to make an Iranian version of the S-300 — we wanted to build an Iranian system, and we built it,” Minister of Defense Dehghan said. The Iranians had been trying to address delays in the acquisition of SA-10s from Russia, which only reauthorized delivery in 2015 after the Obama Administration made a highly controversial deal with Iran over its nuclear program. Iran claimed back in May to have operable SA-10 systems.

Iran has been developing some weapon systems on their own. Most notable in this regard are the Jamaran-class frigates. These ships, based on the 1970s vintage Sa’am-class frigates, are armed with a 76mm gun, four C-802 anti-ship missiles, and SM-1 surface-to-air missiles. While nowhere near a Burke-class destroyer in terms of capability (or even the Al-Riyadh and Al- Madinah classes in Saudi service), the vessels are with sanctions lifted, the Iranians could acquire other weapon systems for future vessels.

Iran has also built two fighters, the Azarakhsh and the Saeqeh. The first is a reverse-engineered version of the Northrop F-5E Tiger, a late 1960s day fighter. The second is an advanced version of the first plane and bears a slight resemblance to the F/A-18 Hornet, albeit it is much less capable, with only half the bombload of the Hornet and lacking a multi-mission radar like the APG-65. Iran has also copied the C-802 anti-ship missile and the SM-1, made improved variants of the MIM-23 HAWK, and even reverse-engineered the AIM-54 Phoenix used on the F-14 Tomcat. Perhaps most impressive is Iran’s ability to design not just upgrades to the M47 and Chieftain main battle tanks, but also develop its own main battle tank, the Zulfiqar.

In short, the Bavar 373 is just the latest in Iranian weapons innovation. Last month, high-ranking officials of that regime threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz. The development of the Bavar 373 means those threats may not be idle.

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