In the Summer of 2006 reports suggested that Iran was looking to buy the Tor-M1 Air defense system, This was confirmed in the first week of 2007 from Russian sources
The TOR-M1 surface-to-air missile system is a mobile, integrated air defense system, designed for operation at medium-, low- and very low Âaltitudes, against fixed/rotary wing aircraft, UAVs, guided missiles and precision weapon. The system is capable of operating in an intensive aerial jamming environment.
The Tor-M1 system has a range of 25 KM, making it a significant qualitative upgrade from the existing SAM-6 systems. The same source indicates the Iranians also are buying the longer range Pechora-2A.
Pechora-2A can hit the air targets at distances from 3.5 to 38 kilometers and at heights from 0.02 to 20 kilometers, flying at a speed of up to 700 meters per second. The complex was successfully tested at a Middle East firing range, hitting an F-16 fighter and an analogue of a Tomahawk cruise missile.
I get the feeling that Iran has not set up a comprehensive air defense grid as we think of it here in the US. They seem to favor using jet aircraft as a long range platform to shoot down air borne threats (F-14, SU-27 & Mig 29). Then they seem to rely on mobile SAM systems as point defense. @ globalsecurity.com they have indicated that Iran may have deployed some of these SAMs in underground bunkers, with multiple entrance tunnels. This allows the mobile SAM launcher a hardened supply/maintenence point, from which the launcher can make its appearance from a number of tunnel entrance points. The Tor-M1 system needs only 10 seconds from target aquisition to launch.
The combination of these 3 systems does add a layer of complexity to Iranian air defense that they have not had in possibly decades. The Pechora-2A with its 38km range would be the 1st layer in this arrangement, while the older but more numerous (and a bit slower to acquire targets) SAM-6 may be left out in the open to deal with targets that get past the Pechora-2A. If a target gets that far, the far more modern and accurate Tor-M1 can be trundled out from a tunnel to defend against the intruder.
At most Iran has maybe 60 front line modern aircraft & maybe 100 SAM style launchers. Whether or not these assets are tied to the 3 major nuclear sites, they will be overwhelmed. The question in my mind is will Bush & Cheney dictate to the US military how & when todoo the job. This administration has a track record for screwing up when it concerns military matters, and a screw up in dealing with Iran could lead to a bit of a bloody nose for the US military.
On the Offensive side of the plate:
"In July 1999, defense analyst Richard D. Fisher wrote an evaluation of the Russian-built Sunburn missile being sold to China. A senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington based think-tank, Fisher reported that the SS-N-22 may be capable of a dive speed of Mach 4.5 that would help it evade U.S. naval defenses. The Sunburn anti-ship missile is perhaps the most lethal anti-ship missile in the world," wrote Fisher in a review of the Chinese navy. The Sunburn combines a Mach 2.5 speed with a very low-level flight pattern that uses violent end maneuvers to throw off defenses. After detecting the Moskit, the U.S. Navy Phalanx point defense system may have only 2.5 seconds to calculate a fire solution -- not enough time before the devastating impact of a 750-lb. warhead."
From Will Pitt:
It is Iran's missile armaments that pose the greatest concern for American forces in the Gulf, especially for the US Navy. Iran's coast facing the Persian Gulf is a looming wall of mountains that look down upon any naval forces arrayed in those waters. The Gulf itself only has one exit, the Strait of Hormuz, which is also dominated by the mountainous Iranian coastline. In essence, Iran holds the high ground in the Gulf. Missile batteries arrayed in those mountains could raise bloody havoc with any fleet deployed below.
Of all the missiles in Iran's armament, the most dangerous is the Russian-made SS-N-22 Sunburn. These missiles are, simply, the fastest anti-ship weapons on the planet. The Sunburn can reach Mach 3 at high altitude. Its maximum low-altitude speed is Mach 2.2, some three times faster than the American-made Harpoon. The Sunburn takes two short minutes to cover its full range. The missile's manufacturers state that one or two missiles could cripple a destroyer, and five missiles could sink a 20,000 ton ship. The Sunburn is also superior to the Exocet missile. Recall that it was two Exocets that ripped the USS Stark to shreds in 1987, killing 37 sailors. The Stark could not see them to stop them.
I think its important to note how Will Pitt places the use of the Sunburn in a terrain specific scenario. I think that a sea based attack on Iran should not come from a task force in the Persian Gulf, but rather from the Arabian Sea. ThePersiann Gulf is a bad spot to be in if Iran gets a shot at US forces in the Gulf. Global security states that Iran not only has purchased the Sunburn, but also the Chinese-made C-801 and C-802 cruise missiles. The C-801 and C-802 appear to be flexible in that they can be fired from patrol boats, submarines, or even trucks.
I think that as long as the US Navy sails carrier groups into the Persian Gulf, what we are seeing is battleship diplomacy. Iran has made some purchases that may give Iran a chance to blow some stuff up, if it comes to an actual shooting war. That'ss not to say the the US Military wont get to its targets, it will. The more I think about it, the more I think the US will not attack Iran using the US Navy. What possibly may be the best US bunker buster is the GBU-28, dropped from a plane, it weighs 4400 pounds. 4400 pounds dropped from 60,000 ft may penetrate a few hundred feet. Never the less I think the best we can do is to blow up the doors to the tunnels, that lead to the bunkered nuclear facilities.
Hopefully the cabal understands this and will settle for a little saber rattling, battleship diplomacy, if you will.