Any Buyers for the 'Poor Man’s S-400'? Iran Offers Its Own Long Range Air Defence System For Export

Iran has begun marketing its first indigenous long range air defence system for export, with a derivative of its Bavar-373 system named AD-200 displayed at the Dimdex 2022 exhibition in Doha, Qatar. The Bavar system was developed from the early 2010s after Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev administration froze a contract to supply Iran with S-300PMU-1 long range air defence systems, which was the latest of many major Russian arms deals with Iran that were obstructed by Western pressure. Iran quickly began development of an indigenous alternative, and benefitted from reverse engineering of the Soviet S-200 system which it had previously purchased. Russia’s freeze on the sale of air defence systems came at a time when options for a Western attack on Iran were under serious consideration, with air strikes set to target nuclear sites and likely military installations across the country. The Bavar-373 is thought to have entered service around 2017, and although less capable than the S-300 it is still a relatively potent system which can be produced at a far lower cost domestically. The system has been complemented by S-300 systems which Russia did in the end deliver - namely customised variants of the more advanced S-300PMU-2 variant - as well as by the indigenous Khordad 15 which also has a long range and high mobility. Iran has continued to upgrade its S-200 systems as well, which it is by far the world’s largest operator of, including increasing their mobility and modernising electronic warfare countermeasures. 

The display at Dimdex 2022 shows that each unit of the Bavar-373 export version has six mobile launchers each carrying four missiles, as well as a command post, search radar and target tracking radar. It has a detection range of 260km, can track up to 300 targets simultaneously, and can engage up to six targets at a time. Its missiles can engage targets up to 200km away and at altitudes of up to 27 km. The system is expected to see strong competition from the much more capable Russian S-400 and Chinese HQ-9B, with other notable competitors being the American Patriot, the North Korean Pyongae-5 (KN-06) and its S-400-resembling successor unveiled in 2020 the name of which remains unknown. The Iranian system is expected to target less developed markets, possibly in Africa or Latin America, which are unable to afford higher end Russian and Chinese systems, and possibly Syria where Iranian air defences have already been deployed to guard Iran's assets there.

While the United States’ Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act threatens economic warfare measures against any state buying major Russian, Iranian or North Korean armaments, which could give the Chinese HQ-9 an advantage for its exemption, the fact that there is no UN arms embargo on Iran unlike on North Korea does give the Iranian system an advantage over Korean ones which would otherwise likely be their closest price competitors. Comparing the Bavar-373 to the current industry leader the Russian S-400, the system has under half the detection range (260km vs. 600km), half the engagement range (200km vs. 400km), can engage a small fraction of the number of targets simultaneously (6 vs. 80), and has a lower maximum altitude (27km vs. 30km). The system uses less sensors and has disadvantages in all performance areas meaning it will need to compete on price rather than performance. 

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