How did the Iranians manage to develop a host of entirely new radar designs and several new surface-to-air missile systems and even produce a match for the Russian-made S-300 — all within less than 10 years?
Perhaps more importantly, are systems such as Talash-3 and Bavar-373 – and their obviously sophisticated elements, such as the Hafez and Meraj-4 radars – genuinely Iranian in their designs?
The Iranian media leaves no doubt. All the new SAM systems, all the associated radars, missiles and other equipment — everything was designed by Iranians and is manufactured in Iran, mostly by the Iran Electronic Industries in Shiraz and the Aerospace Industries Organization in Tehran.
Manufacturer plates are said to confirm this beyond any doubt.
Correspondingly, huge technical universities are turning out thousands of highly-qualified, smart researchers. They’re publishing an amazing number of research papers – especially in engineering and technology-related fields. Their work is impressive enough to prompt even The Jerusalem Post into expressing concerns over Iran winning the “technology war” against Israel.
Some have strong doubts about this mass of Iranian scientific publications being a measure of innovation, or even a measure of development. Namely, most of the publications in question advance unsubstantiated theories, while others are little but copies of existing Western papers.
Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that many were published expressly for the purposes of advancing somebody’s career – often to improve chances of securing a better future in the West.
In this regard, Iran appears to be following in China’s footsteps. Combined with the persistent, age-old problems of the Iranian economy, the rule of exclusivist cliques and endemic corruption, a lack of investment and industrial management skills, this results in a situation where development and production of modern SAM systems are outright impossible.
In fact, new Iranian SAM systems are anything but indigenous. “I saw a photograph of very advanced radar of ‘Iranian’ design,” said Ma’arif, a career military officer from a country that’s cooperating with China on air defenses. “Recognizing its origins, I asked a representative of the Chinese Electronic Technologies Company — why is China not producing such designs for my country?
“He told me that their degree of cooperation with Iran is almost reaching the degree of their cooperation with Pakistan. Furthermore, he said, this kind of cooperation is impossible with us because the amount of stuff we are buying is too small, and we don’t have the industrial capacity of Iran. Should our cooperation go further, he added, then they will do their best to boost our military industry, too.”
A representative of the CETC in Europe effectively confirmed Ma’arif’s assertions. “Our relations with Iran in this domain are very intensive. We are often surprised with the high level of Iranian knowledge in this matter.”
Sino-Iranian cooperation on air defenses is nothing new. It began in the late 1980s, when the Iranians began purchasing products such as the HQ-2 missile — based on the Soviet S-75/SA-2 Guideline — and the HQ-7 based on the French Crotale.
Although often disappointed by poor manufacturing quality, and sometimes accusing their Chinese partners for outright espionage, the Iranians have continued this cooperation. Unsurprisingly, several of the “new” Iranian radars that have appeared in the late 2000s were quickly recognized as derivatives of Chinese-made systems.
Considering the flexibility and business-oriented practices of the involved Chinese companies, this might not appear unusual. However, there are strong indications that the appearance of radars in question was anything else but accidental, Ma’arif explained.
“Their companies are not wasting time searching for opportunities to present their products. They are constantly studying the market and know exactly the domain they need to fill in order to obtain lucrative orders. At least three different cases from the last few years are known, where Chinese companies did not attempt to attract local customers with general offers for their products, but placed very precise offers – and won all the contests.”
There’s a perception in the West that Chinese tech can’t seriously compete with Western products. Ma’arif’s insisted that this notion is wrong. “Much of modern-day Chinese military technology is based on direct or indirect copies of various U.S., Russian, French, British, Israeli or other designs. However, declaring all of what the Chinese are doing as cheap, poorly manufactured copies is a massive understatement, if not an outright lie.
The Chinese are meanwhile capable … of providing their export customers with much more sophisticated, yet far cheaper systems than either the USA, Russia or anybody else is ready to sell. Nowhere is this as valid as in regards of Chinese-made, ground-based, early-warning radars and electronic countermeasures.”
Even then, the development — by China exclusively for Iran — of at least two entirely new, top-notch weapons systems is an affair of entirely new quality. So far, Beijing is known to have entered similar kind of cooperation with one country only — Pakistan.
Ma’arif said that the Chinese are unwilling to enter into such agreements without very strict conditions. “They agreed to go as far as necessary for us, as long as the price was okay for them. As long as we are ready to pay for it, all we have to do is to ask.
“In turn, we have to guarantee we would not enter similar cooperation with any other authority or instance. Indeed, that we would not even attempt to find any other partners. We had to grant them the exclusiveness in this project.”