Friday, October 5, 2007

IAF versus Russian Radar in Syria: Facts and Rumors

A few recent reports have Iran, Russia and Syria worried over Israel's ability to penetrate Syrian (that is, Russian) air defenses, as shown in the recent raid on Syria, by jamming missile radar (see Aviation Week, Haaretz, and Times Online).  Supposedly, this raid was a "test" of "new" technology that would be used to jam Iranian air defenses in an Israeli raid.
There are some problems with this thesis. One is that Israel would hardly give away the secret of mission-critical technology essential for a raid on Iran, by announcing that it has it in a minor raid on Syria. If Israel is indeed planning a raid on Iran, it will not rely on that technology.
A second is that in principle, Israel has been developing electronic solutions for Russian radar-guided missiles at least since 1982, so this ability is not so new,  though the particular system used here may have used advanced technology.  Syrian radar operators are well aware of this fact.  At any given time, Israel either has the solution for the particular system that is deployed, or is working on one. The electronic solution apparently depends on having an aircraft, perhaps unmanned, that is either out of range of the radar or not easily detectable, and that can latch on to the missile-guiding radar and jam it. Another solution may be to know the precise location of the system and to fire a missile at it from a distance, out of range of the system.
The Aviation week article suggests that a particular technology was used:

U.S. aerospace industry and retired military officials indicated today that a technology like the U.S.-developed "Suter" airborne network attack system developed by BAE Systems and integrated into U.S. unmanned aircraft by L-3 Communications was used by the Israelis. The system has been used or at least tested operationally in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last year.

The technology allows users to invade communications networks, see what enemy sensors see and even take over as systems administrator so sensors can be manipulated into positions so that approaching aircraft can't be seen, they say. The process involves locating enemy emitters with great precision and then directing data streams into them that can include false targets and misleading messages algorithms that allow a number of activities including control.

The professed Iranian alarm that appears in some reports is apparently much less immediate and urgent than some reports claim:


A Kuwaiti newspaper wrote that "Russian experts are studying why the two state-of-the art Russian-built radar systems in Syria did not detect the Israeli jets entering Syrian territory. Iran reportedly has asked the same question, since it is buying the same systems and might have paid for the Syrian acquisitions."


Of course, if they bought the systems, the Iranians would be worried about why they didn't work, regardless of whether or not they are expecting anyone to attack them. Iran should however, take it for granted in its planning, that whatever system they have bought, if the US or Israel ever attack Iran, they will have found a solution for that system.

The biggest problem with the idea that the incursion into Syria was a rehearsal for an attack on Iran is that there is currently no credible Iran attack scenario. Aside from the general aversion to violent solutions and the political repercussions, there are specific problems that would have to be solved, and specific threats that would have to be neutralized before either US or Israel would be able to attack Iran. It is not clear that all of these have been solved or can be solved:

Threat of Iranian rocket retaliation on Iraqi and Israeli targets. This includes not only rockets launched by Iran, but Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon.

Chaos in Lebanon exacerbated by Hezbollah in retaliation for an attack.

Precise and verifiable intelligence about the location of nuclear facilities and other vital installations. An attack that hits decoys or misses the most important centers would be a disaster.

Getting there - As regards Israel, there is no real indication that it has aircraft or other systems that are capable of reaching Iran. Imaginative reports of F15i with 1700 km range without refueling should not be trusted, and still less credibility can be given to confabulaions about Israeli cruise missiles with tactical nuclear warheads.

Technical ability to destroy deep underground protected installations in reinforced concrete bunkers. The experience of the second Lebanon War proved that it is very difficult to locate and destroy even relatively "easy" targets like Hezbollah bunkers from the air. This is one of the lessons that Iran learned as well as Israel.

It is also clear that if they have not been solved, people are probably working on solutions. The media chatter about attacks on Iran is used as psychological warfare by both sides, and the release of various leaks is intended either as a deterrent or to demonize internal political opponents in the United States. While United States security is possibly very  lax, it is unlikely that the IAF would reveal operational plans for an attack to provide entertainment for the readers of the Sunday Times or the Sunday Telegraph. The only thing that we can learn from such leaks is probably how the attack will not be carried out.

Ami Isseroff

No comments: