The Israeli Air Force has the proven ability, unique in the region, to jam hostile ground, airborne and seaborne radars. Its counter measures are also capable of neutralizing the Russian S-300 air defense system by jamming its two primary radar mechanisms – if and when this weapon is delivered to Iran.
One of the Russian system’s radars seeks out planes and tactical ballistic missiles by means of multiple-target X-band tracking and guidance; the other is firing control.
In view of the IAF’s electronic warfare capabilities, neither would provide a real bar to an Israeli air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities – any more than Syria’s Russian-made Pantsyr-21-SA air defense batteries discovered or stopped IAF jets and helicopters when they flew in on Sept. 6, 2007 to demolish the Iranian-North Korean plutonium reactor, then under construction in northern Syria.
A more recent example was the Israeli air attack of June 30, 2013 on the Jamrayah research center in Dummar, northwest of Damascus, which inter alia housed Syria’s chemical weapons research.
The jets had no difficulty in overriding Syria’s newly supplied SA-17 antiaircraft missile batteries. The bombardment was heavy enough to be taken by witnesses as a series of minor earthquakes.
Anonymous US officials said the Israeli jets had struck a convoy carrying Syrian weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon.
Moscow responded furiously, saying that “such action, if confirmed, would amount to unacceptable military interference in a war-ravaged country.”
Israel’s air raiders override Syria’s Russian-made air defenses
On May 5, 2013, Israeli warplanes flew over Syria again, this time to raid two of the Assad regime’s most sensitive locations – Mount Qasioun and Damascus Airport.
Atop Mount Qasioun and overlooking the capital, sits the Syrian ruler’s fortified palace, where he and his family are guarded by his most trusted troops, members of the Syrian Republican Guard’s 105th Brigades.
The military section of Damascus airport is the hub of Iranian military movements in and out of Syria.
It was only after the Israeli air bombardments resounded and sent tongues of flame shooting over the targeted sites that Syrian air defenses went into action.
The Israeli Air Force’s ability to black out almost any radar screen operating in the region was gained by rigorous and repeated practice over long periods of time by its pilots, navigators, technical teams and electronic warfare (EW) experts. Their skills were perfected and polished in many air exercises over Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and other countries who purchased the S-300.
This capability is shared only with the US Air Force, which could knock out more than 80 percent of the Russian anti-air missile’s system if it were deployed in Iran.
Disrupting the S-300 radar beams and attack commands
Western air forces and navies are equipped with electronic warfare mechanisms able to black out or disable almost every radar screen in operation today. And not just today: The jamming of search and range-finding radar dates back to World War II.
A clue to those abilities was revealed 21 years ago when, ahead of the 1991 Gulf War, American warships bombed Mediterranean shores with electro-magnetic waves. This paralyzed the Iraqi army’s defenses against US Tomahawk cruise missiles, as well as masking a view of American operational plans to any interested parties in the region, including Israel.
It is possible, and not too difficult, to mess up the electromagnetic waves beamed by a S-300 missile battery’s radar transmitter, as they bounce back to its control room for translating into data on the size of the targeted flying object, its volume, speed and direction of flight. This bounced beam may be broken up by iron fragments, metal chaff or a counter-electromagnetic wave to garble these calculations. As a result, the control room will be disabled before it can give the command for the S300 battery to shoot down the incoming flying object.
These measures may be applied by unmanned aircraft from friendly territory close to Iran, like Saudi Arabia, or from a vessel at sea in the Caspian or Arabian Ocean. A drone may be used as a decoy for an attack in Iran. This flying vehicle could be a “suicide,” and fly in at a very low altitude armed with a guided explosive warhead.
Combining drones and stealth missiles for outwitting the S-300
Since Moscow and Tehran have not decided which member of the S-300 family of anti-air missiles will be supplied to Iran (as first disclosed by debkafile on April 15), the West has no hard information on its equipment and capabilities.
It is taken for granted that the Russians won’t part with their most up-to-date version, for fear of exposing its state of the art technology to spies for duplication by the West – or even by Iranian engineers.
The basic S-300 version is in fact 40 year old. Its specifications will undoubtedly have passed through the hands of generations of spies, agents and moles, bound to have been planted inside Russia’s missile industries, its defense ministry and the Russian army units receiving it. The dozens of nations who purchased the S-300 will also have given the West plenty of data on its functions and radar capabilities.
Many US defense officials are of the opinion that only high-end stealth aircraft like the B-2 Spirit and the high-performance F-22 Raptor can safely operate inside an area protected by the S-300 and its many variants, whereas entire regions become no-go zones for conventional jets.
Israel military experts challenge this diagnosis. The S-300 can be worsted without high-end stealth aircraft, they say. One way to outwit Russian air defense systems would be to combine drones and stealthy long-range missiles. This could be done by air-launching miniature drones carrying jammers to deceive the S-300 radars by giving them fake targets.
Overstating difficulties of air strike for political motives
Israel EW experts also disagree with the US defense officials who argue that even the short-range US-F-35 stealth fighters on order for Israel can only carry a pair of 2,000-pound bombs, which are not likely to be a match for Iran’s most heavily fortified sites. The destruction of some facilities may call for the massive 30,000-point GBU-57 A/B Massive Ordnance Penetrator, which only the American B-2 stealth bomber can carry.
The overriding concern of Israel strategists is how many S-300 batteries are to be supplied to Iran and their spread across the country. That difficulty is further compounded by the system’s high mobility: It can be moved at a moment’s notice.
If the Russian-made S-300 batteries are deployed in large numbers and widely scattered, even American stealth jets like the B-2 and F-22 Raptor would face a hard test.
Even so, Israel military experts believe that the Obama administration, out of political motives, is overstating the difficulties of air missions against Iranian nuclear facilities – using Moscow’s promise of S-300s to drive the point home.